Q&As for 2022: Balu Iyer, regional director, ICA Asia and Pacific

‘Co-operatives… sustained by values of self-help, solidarity, social responsibility and concern for community, can lead the way ahead’

How has the last year been for your organisation? 

It has been another tumultuous year, to say the least. At the beginning of 2021, we were under the impression that the pandemic was easing, and we would soon return to ‘normal.’ While we were cautiously adjusting – keeping distance, wearing masks, being more conscious of physical meetings – we were hit with the deadly second wave, which sent us back under lockdown, return to restrictions, and living under the threat of the much feared third wave.  

The second wave hit the Indian subcontinent (Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka) quite hard with a rapid increase in cases and even more rapid fatalities. To support members in countries impacted by the pandemic, we started the Cooperatives Combat Covid Fund and linked co-operatives directly to donors. We received generous support from co-operatives in Germany, Japan, Kenya, Malaysia, UK, and USA. The support has been used to assist agriculture co-ops, migrant workers, and women in the informal sector.   

Tight movement restrictions, increase in vaccinations, and timely government stimulus have helped ease the situation and things are returning to the ‘normal’ we experienced at the beginning of the year. We hope the crest does not again turn into a wave. As an organisation, we have started coming to the office and attending physical meetings (in Delhi and within India). However, with travel restrictions still in place, we continue to hold online meetings, workshops, and webinars. The ICA-AP Regional Office and Youth Committee held the third Asia-Pacific Cooperative Youth Summit online, which attracted over 3,000 registrations. The Women Committee held a training of trainers on digital financial inclusion to highlight the need for women in the informal sector to adapt to online transactions and payments. Our members in the region were very supportive and readily engaged in the events. The Covid-19 pandemic did not stop them addressing member needs, bringing in innovations, and advocating for an enabling environment. 

What are your hopes for the future? 

This month, co-operatives in India celebrate co-operative week. Co-operatives in the Philippines did the same last month. In Nepal, the National Cooperative Federation has launched a campaign to promote SDG 12 – sustainable production and consumption. Even during the pandemic, co-operatives in the Asia-Pacific region were rebuilding better together. In Australia, advocacy on part of the Business Council of Cooperatives and Mutuals (BCCM) led to the Australian government recognising co-operatives and listing them alongside other business structures. In India, the Indian Farmers Fertilizers Cooperative (IFFCO), has developed nano fertilisers which can reduce the excess use of urea application, reduce harmful effects on the soil, and improve crop yield. In Japan, the Japanese Workers Cooperative Union (JWCU) was successful in getting the Workers Cooperative Act passed during the pandemic.  

I am optimistic that things will improve in the coming months. Co-operatives with their human-centred business model, sustained by the co-operative values of self-help and solidarity and ethical values of social responsibility and concern for community, can lead the way ahead.