Obituary: Mohammad Sharif Bhaiji

The pioneer of the co-op movement from Pakistan dedicated his life to developing housing co-operatives

Mohammad Sharif Bhaiji, a co-operative housing pioneer who dedicated his life to the movement, died on 6 May in Karachi, Pakistan, after falling ill with Covid-19.

Born in Bombay, India (Mumbai) in 1936, Bhaiji was immersed into the world of co-operatives early on through the work of his father, Yousuf Bhaiji, one of the founders of Sindh Cooperative. He continued his parent’s work and, in his various roles with the housing co-operatives of Karachi, he helped to develop houses, flats and townships in rural and urban areas.

As a managing director of Karachi Cooperative Housing Societies Union, he helped to set up hospitals, schools, rehabilitation centres and recreation parks. He was also a director of Kokan Cooperative Housing, where he had served as a secretary for more than 20 years.

He was also involved in developing an affordable store and a park in the area. His other roles included general secretary of the Union Cooperative Club, where he worked to expand and refurbish the club, and serving as director of Union Cooperative College for over 20 years.

He was active in the wider co-operative sector, particularly as secretary of Sindh Provincial Cooperatives Union, which includes 2,700 consumer, agriculture, fisheries, credit and housing societies.

Internationally, he served as member of the global board of Co-operative Housing International between 2009 and 2013.

He is survived by his wife Errum Sharif Bhaiji and their son Hamza.

Co-operators from around the world have been paying tribute to him.

David Rodgers, a former president of Cooperative Housing International, said: “Mohammad was a delightful gentle man committed to our co-operative principles and values. He was dedicated to our co-operative endeavours and also to equal rights for women, determined to promote equal access to education for all, especially young girls in Pakistan, and to demonstrating how co-operative enterprise and values can truly built a better world, a philosophy he set out in a book he published a few years ago.

“He was also determined to encourage the next generation of co-operators to follow in his footsteps. His total commitment to equality was demonstrated when, having retired from the board of Co-operative Housing International, he encouraged and supported his wife Errum Sharif Bhaiji to stand for election to the board. Mohammad, we will miss you, the world is a poorer place without you. My sincere condolences to your wife Errum, your family, our co-operative friends in Pakistan including Ahsan Ali Thakur and all the other young co-operators you mentored.”

ICA board member Alexandra Wilson said: “I met Mr Mohammad Sharif Bhaiji through Cooperative Housing International, the ICA sectoral body that brings together co-operative housing organisations from around the world.

“Mr Bhaiji’s co-operative, the Karachi Cooperative Housing Societies Union Ltd, was a member and he proved a dedicated representative who was keen to learn from housing co-operatives in other countries and generous in sharing his own country’s experience.

“A reserved and humble man, Mr Bahaiji was not inclined to boast but, gradually, as he revealed more about the activities of the co-operative organisation he led, an impressive story unfolded. We came to see that Mr Bhaiji’s vision went far beyond the simple provision of housing for co-operative members to include ancillary services and other co-operative undertakings, including in the realm of education for girls, in which he was a strong believer. 

“W. P. Watkins, a former director general of the ICA, argued in a seminal piece published in 1951 that ‘cooperative thinking must necessarily be both static and dynamic’. He noted that for many co-operators it is sufficient to achieve stability (the static state) so that the preservation of the co-operative becomes an end in itself and ‘faith in a social ideal and its attainment’ (the dynamic impulse) is lost or obscured.

“Under his leadership, Mr Bhaiji’s co-operative union, with its continual quest for social equity, exemplified the successful ‘fusion of stability with progress’ that Watkins described as the essence of co-operation. Mr Bhaiji himself exemplified a co-operator committed to the aims that justly allow us to speak of a co-operative movement.”

Ahsan Ali Thakur char of the ICA – Asia and Pacific Committee on Youth Cooperation, and Vice President of ICA Youth Network (Global), who worked closely with him, said: “Fearless was his attribute even before his departure he was active and ready to serve the co-operative community and societies. He was the true co-operator and wanted to work and lead with everyone.

“In the Muslim world, his last days were in the holy month of Ramzan (Ramadan), which is considered one of the highest ways to depart from this world. All the staff and people who were close to him supported and adored his fatherly approach. His legacy will be remembered.”