Can a youth cooperative transform the lives of its members? To help you build a deeper understanding on how a cooperative model could help young entrepreneurs, we’re bringing you a series of blogs- Understanding Cooperative Model for Youth Entrepreneurs. In the three blogs of this series, we will explain about the relevance of cooperative principles for youth entrepreneurs, pros and cons of a cooperative model, and best practices leading to success of the cooperatives.
In this post we will dive into understanding the cooperative model, we look at a success story of a youth cooperative, Subeng Dinosaur Cooperative, based out of Lesotho in Africa, to show how choosing a coop model could benefit you and the entrepreneurship ecosystem.
Before we learn about the experiences of the Subeng Dinosaur Cooperative, let’s recall the relevance of key seven coop principles for youth entrepreneurs that we mentioned in our previous blog post. Please find the principles below for your reference.
While you read the success story of the Dinosaur cooperative, check how coop principles drove the success and experiences of the members.
Introducing the Cooperative
The Subeng Dinosaur Youth cooperative is a cooperative tourist business that was started in 2007 by a group of young people based in North East Lesotho. Do you have any guesses on what was their business idea? They found the business idea out of the footprints of the dinosaurs who roamed around in Lesotho some 200 million years ago. Cool right? Check it out here.
What does this coop do exactly?
The cooperative offers guided tours to show and talk about the dinosaur footprints embedded in the rocks near a stream of river in Leribe District. Read more here. They also produce and offer moulds of the dinosaur footprints, jewellery and artwork on sale. The cooperative is able to reinvest the fees they charge for the guided tour and the souvenirs into the cooperative. If you are ever in the Leribe District of Lesotho, be sure to stop by and say hi to the cooperative!
How did the Subeng Dinosaur Cooperative influence the lives of its members?
The cooperative members had no source of income or permanent work prior to starting the cooperative. Being part of a cooperative gave them an opportunity to work autonomously and generate self-employment opportunity for themselves. Members of the cooperative could encourage each other, and agreed to work together in the coop business. They defined the coop’s principles to divide the amount and the nature of work amongst each other. They developed byelaws to facilitate regular saving, reinvestments in the cooperative, and to ensure equal sharing of the profits. The members are happy to be able to start the collective business. So far, it has helped them meet their basic daily needs and they they continue to innovative and ideate new ways to grow the cooperative to generate further income.
Being the owners of the cooperative, members could collectively incorporate their ideas and resources, to promote participative decision-making in their business. For example, when members realized the need to attract more visitors and expand their business, they decided to pool their resources to build road signs, which enable drivers on the main roads to know about the existence of the dinosaur footprints, and the tours the cooperative offers.
They did this again, when they identified the need to have a central location for their market and administrative operations, they used their joint resources to build a small room (stone and mud) to sell their products, hold regular meetings, and meet the visitors.
So, the ability to independently take decisions, to incorporate members’ ideas, and pool resources in a coop, provided multiple opportunities to the members to improve their leadership abilities and grow their business.
We know that cooperatives are responsive to member needs, and that the coop principles are concerned about well-being of the member community. Even in this Dinosaur cooperative, the youth members’ experiences highlights this.
Members quote that the cooperative has helped the members in not just economic pursuits but also their emotional well-being.For example, youth members come from different socio-cultural and technical backgrounds, and they can help with a range of issues collectively, beyond business. The knowledge exchange and interdependence has helped the members understand that they will stand and fall together in the cooperative enterprise. It has helped them care and support the general wellbeing of one another.
Furthermore, their coop is not just a profit making entity. It focuses on catering to member needs and community benefits as well. As the business expands, it attracts more visitors from different regions and countries. Thus, helping the community and neighbourhood to gain respect and recognition. The coop members acknowledge that the community also sees them with more appreciation than before the cooperative existed.
With the coop business, the young members have forged strong bonds of togetherness with each other. They have also found a new sense of pride, purpose, recognition, responsibility and accountability for themselves, each other, and the community.
Access to Skills and Partnerships:
Coop stories from different countries show that training organizations and government offices are keen to train the cooperatives because of the scale, potential for peer-to-peer learning, and accountability that a coop can promise. Successful larger cooperatives are often able to provide training to members on topics like leadership, governance, member management, and marketing.
Prior to forming the cooperative, the youth members were unable to tap into and access training programmes to support their individual development and business savvy. By being part of the cooperative, members could reach out to support organizations to learn the technical and vocational skills, which could contribute to the success of the cooperative.
Collective Learning & Support network:
Educating members, promoting cooperation, and building collaborations is at the heart of coop model.It is evident in the Dinosaur cooperative as well.
Members share that they depend on peer-to-peer learning to expand their knowledge and generate new ideas. A member shared that, “if someone has an idea, they share and we all learn from it. The discussion helps both sides.”
In addition, the cooperative needs to partner with a variety of different stakeholders and these interactions have allowed the youth members to develop a network of reliable contacts for professional and personal support. Working with these stakeholders has also taught the members valuable social skills that they can carry with them into other areas of their lives as well.
The cooperative has thus helped the youth to create a reliable support network within and outside the cooperative.
The story of the Subeng Dinosaur Cooperative shows the numerous benefits of the cooperative model for the youth members. From mutual benefits to democratic decision-making, the cooperative model gives each member more buy-in to the success of the cooperative as well as more ownership over decisions made.
In closing, the benefits of a cooperative model over a traditional hierarchical business model stem in large part from the mutual benefit to members and the flat decision making structure. Youth involved in the Dinosaur coop all have equal weight in the success or failure of the entity. Finally, as the enterprise is non-profit, any profits generated are funnelled back into the coop, to ensure its ongoing success and growth.
So, how can your cooperative benefit your members? Any thoughts?
** Please note that having the cooperative model alone is not the panacea for the problems related with youth entrepreneurship. In our next blog we will highlight key challenges while working with cooperatives.
** The text has used the experience of Lesotho’s youth cooperatives to interpret the success story and benefits of Subeng Dinosaur Cooperative to its members.