We are reproducing an interview Tarun Bhargava, GM (Cooperative Relations) of IFFCO (INDIA) gave to the World Cooperative Monitor. Interestingly, Mr Bhargava is also the Chair of the Cooperative Entrepreneurship Think Tank (ICETT). ICETT is concerned with strengthening cooperatives’ entrepreneurial performance-Editor
What value can the ICETT bring to the International Cooperative Movement?
This is indeed a very important question, simply be- cause you refer to the movement and not just the ICA. ICETT is the brainchild of the circumstances the global community finds itself in. There are enterprise ideas that are unable to take off; the ones that do take off hardly manage to survive; there is little or no entrepreneurial exchange among large cooperatives. ICETT is expected to bridge these gaps and usher in an era of strategic thought which could propel strategic action among cooperatives, aimed at strengthening international cooperation and through it, large scale benefits to the wider community. It works through four working groups on important themes like ‘Future of Work’, ‘Human Rights and Value Chains’, ‘WCM & SDGs’ and ‘Co- operative Identity and Competitive Advantage’, and its membership is comprised of true leaders from the co-operatives sector, who have now committed and resolved to help the movement on entrepreneurial aspects and climate, in the 21st century. Besides this evident value of bringing together large ethically run global leaders, in my opinion, ICETT is best positioned to mobilize co- operative values of solidarity and social responsibility in the context of cooperative entrepreneurship.
How are the members of ICETT collaborating on the World Cooperative Monitor research and what are the prospects for future collaboration?
ICETT collaboration on the WCM is going to be a game-changer. All of us are proud of the unparalleled and unique work that the WCM team has done so far. I think it is timely that large cooperatives like IFFCO, The Mid counties Co-operative, Sancor Seguros, Mondragon, Rabo bank, S Group, and other members of the ICETT, can reflect together with the WCM teamon issues beyond their economic contribution to the society. We live in a world of SDGs, and many corporations around the world co-own the pursuit of these goals along with governments and the civil society movement. The link between WCM and ICETT will help us all articulate and pronounce the role and nature of cooperatives, which have sustain- ability in their DNA, in the run upto 2030. WCM has since 2018 included a section on SDGs in its reports. The close collaboration envisioned between ICETT and WCM will take this coverage forward, and bring much value to future WCM reports as the two now have a discussion and thinking platform to convene and brainstorm ideas and topical issues which could be included in WCM reports to help better recognize and appreciate the difference Coop Business Model can bring to the society. I believe that in the future WCM will be a very crucial tool to raise the profile of cooperatives for policy makers and industry professionals working in the Coop Arena.
How have international partnerships such as ICETT impacted the work of IFFCO?
IFFCO is a product of International Cooperation, and more than anything else, India is a land of freedom of knowledge where our ethos is built on gaining education and practicing learning. Our participation in the ICETT is fully inspired by Hon’ble Managing Director, IFFCO Dr U.S. Awasthi, who is an internationalist and has been on the forefront of innovative evolution of our cooperative organization that represents the needs and aspirations of 36000 member cooperatives! Besides India, IFFCO has its operations in Jordan, Oman, Dubai and works with many other global corporations. Like other members of the ICETT, we stand to gain from respective best practices in general, SDGs linked initiatives, and strategic inter-cooperation including trade and business, in particular. IFFCO has also been on the board of the ICA for years, representing the voice of the largest cooperative movement in the world, and by this I don’t mean only my country, India, but also in our region and sector.
In this edition of the World Cooperative Monitor we’re specifically addressing the targets of SDG 13 (Climate Action). How are cooperatives positioned to meet the targets?
I take the example of IFFCO where Climate change is central, both in terms of us taking full cognizance of the threat for, primarily, our members are farmers, and secondly, in terms of our commitment to lessen the effect by taking appropriate action. At IFFCO it is our way of life to integrate Environment Friendly Ergonomic solutions within our business processes. We have entered the ecological fertilizer sector in a big way and expect to bring in behavioral change in millions of farmers and citizens at large to opt only for environmentally friendly practices on their farms as well as kitchen gardens. We will be able to tackle climate change through science and innovation, apart from of course doing small things individually. The latest innovation to come out is IFFCO Nano Urea and other nanotechnology based agri-inputs. We have also forayed into Bio-Fertilisers, Sustainable Agro-Forestry, Sustainable Water & Waste Management, Sagarika-A Seaweed based bio-stimulant and Solar Energy based implementation in our production units in a big way. We believe the Soil is the Soul of Mother Earth and we help Farmers to conserve it for the future. We have examples from Mondragon, Rabobank and coops from other sectors also who are committed to contributing to this important subject.
This year we can’t ignore the impact of COVID 19 on our economies and our work as cooperatives. What role can cooperatives play in the recovery efforts?
Most importantly, we cannot forget the impact of COVID-19 on our homes and by that I mean by the health of our near and dear ones. This is what Dr U.S. Awasthi mentioned during one of the first webinars organized under the ICA system way back in June this year. Our recovery has to be oriented to benefit humanity first, but also needs to be centered around safe-guarding our planet. The pandemic is also a reminder of nature hitting back and claiming its space back from unethical practices, particularly in the business world. To begin with, we need to support people-centric social enterprises in healthcare. I think Cooperatives are the most suitable vehicles to reach to different strata of the society in these challenging times. I believe IFFCO as well as other members of the ICETT and of course large cooperatives the world over must come together in solidarity, plan and launch a recovery strategy immediately and should include the virtual tools to address the new normal.