New Zealand’s leadership change – and what it means for co-ops

‘What we need is a brave government and leadership to come in and be prepared to support doing things differently, at speed’

As its prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, resigns, New Zealand faces into an election year. Roz Henry, CEO of co-op apex Cooperative Business NZ, looks at what the leadership change means for co-operation

New Zealand is recognised internationally as one of the most co-operative nations globally with 18% of our GDP by revenue (as noted in the World Co-op Monitor) being generated by co-operatives and  mutuals. 

Given this, you would assume that our government would be well-heeled in understanding the sector, especially when you take into account their 1.5 million members in a population of only 5 million. Not to mention, the overall supply chain that wraps around these businesses has a major impact on the country economically and socially across all regions. 

Unfortunately, this is not the case. 

A lot of this stems from a lack of education on the business model at secondary and tertiary levels. This isn’t helped if those who do have a voice, spread the word about the model being out of date or counter to a free economy. But this doesn’t add up…

As distinct from many other countries, the model in New Zealand is mainly applied against commercial operations. Many of them are some of our most successful, enduring businesses alongside being major exporters. They are significant employers and support a substantial number of SMEs to thrive. On a smaller scale, there are community-based schemes throughout the country that enable social outcomes. 

The recent announcement of the resignation of our prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, head of the Labour Party, has come to many as a shock given her prominence. However, it also opens doors. What we need is a brave government and leadership to come in and be prepared to support doing things differently, at speed. Remove the barriers to support these businesses’ establishment, recognise the opportunities they present, and get in behind them. 

The world we live in today is not the world of five or 10 years ago. There is a global shift from profit-driven businesses to refocusing on taking care of people and planet as a priority. Co-operatives play a part in the solution. 

There is often an expectation that they will be more socialistic in their thinking when compared to their right-leaning counterparts. However, in New Zealand, there is little distinction. 

Related: EU-NZ trade agreement criticised by agri-co-ops on both sides

With our upcoming election in October, the incoming government needs to be prepared to look outside the box to consider how we might make a major step change. 

We have a significant gap between the haves and have-nots. All signs point to this only increasing. The co-operative model has the potential to change the dial and enable individuals and families sitting within lower socio-economic communities to change their circumstances. Whether it be through the establishment of co-operative collective businesses such as trades, agriculture, horticulture, aquaculture, technology; housing, or infrastructure, the opportunities are broad. 

We are seeing a significant increase in businesses recognising the need for change to achieve carbon zero and aiming to get B Corp certified. We know that operating under the ICA’s co-operative principles takes these businesses a significant step closer as it is built into their fundamental psyche. 

As the election year begins, Cooperative Business NZ is advocating for increased engagement with government officials to showcase why there needs to be a greater understanding of this business community and the role they can play to support responding to the changed environment. Whether it be through education, policy and legislation (enabling the ILO, 193 recommendations) or supporting the establishment of these businesses, the incoming government will need to play a key role in ensuring the social and economic opportunities these businesses present can be realised.

We hope that they are able to put in place the foundations for the next generation of co-operative to continue to thrive by recognising this business community and the benefits they have to offer.