COVID-19 has changed the way individuals and organisations of all sizes carry out every day activities. In these difficult times the need for unity and communities is important for getting through this crisis. After all, helping people in need is the core mantra of the cooperative. The need for a community-based economic model is vital in these moments. Cooperatives more so than ever need to protect their members and respond to their individual needs. This article covers the lessons learned from COVID-19 and how digital services are essential to strengthen cooperatives moving forward.

“The pandemic has revealed and brought urgency to necessary reforms around public health, social safety nets, disaster response, and countryside development. But what reinforces all these reforms is the digital imperative"
Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Benjamin Diokno

Lessons learned from the pandemic

Heavily dependent on office environment - Many cooperatives have discovered they cannot carry out administrative tasks when away from their desks. During COVID-19 lockdown period, administrators were unable to access physical documents located in the office. This resulted in cooperative operations being disrupted.

Remote communications fragmented - Faced with the dilemma of being unable to meet in person with members, cooperatives continued to communicate with members using social media, WhatsApp and the sending text messages. Although, free messaging platforms are great they are not accessible by all. They also do not provide cooperative admins with a central place for communication. Sending letters proved to be difficult due to unavailability of office printers. However, not all members have access to the internet to stay connected.  

Larger cooperatives continued to conduct meetings using popular tools such as Facetime, Google Meet, and Zoom which provide people with a facsimile face-to-face using RTC video conferencing.  

Why digital services are essential

Digital tools can come in many forms for running a cooperative. From accounting software to managing members. But even more important is the opportunity it provides for cooperatives to get closer to their members and use a range of channels to get their input, ideas and feedback – on everything from strategic decisions to daily matters.

Instant information sharing - Digital tools allow for the immediate dispatch of information which is vital in times of emergencies. The medium in which information is shared should be accessible by all. Sending text messages is acceptable since most people have access to a mobile phone.

Instant communication - Surprisingly enough many cooperatives still rely on letters, phone calls, one-way SMS messages, and email.  While these may be an effective way to communicate they are slow and do not scale. The main reason why cooperatives need to embrace digital tools is for speed and scalability which should both go hand-in-hand.  It is not enough just to inform, cooperatives must be able to engage in a two-way dialogue.  This process, in order to scale, must be automated, and in order to be useful, needs to be structured in such a way that the data can be used for decision making.

Quickly respond to members' needs - By employing the use of integrated digital tools cooperatives can effectively engage with their members. They can generate data that can be used in strategic planning in order to improve their services, reduce costs by eliminating mistakes and focus limited resources on activities that satisfy the needs of their members.

The new normal

The new normal may look like the following:

Social distancing - The new normal is social distancing and the potential for lockdowns at any moment.  This calls for having systems in place that can allow the cooperative to continue operations.  These systems by nature have to be digital tools that can provide for all of the functions dealing with cooperative communications and possibly commercial ones as well.

Adoption of innovation digital service - Cooperatives conducting meetings both formal and informal with members using digital services such as video Zoom conference calls etc.

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