COOP Champions

Sandra Yu, ILO DWT Bangkok

COOP Champions features ILO colleagues from around the world working on cooperatives and other social and solidarity economy enterprises. It highlights their contributions, and shares highlights of their experiences, current work, and future aspirations.

Article | 29 November 2017
Ms Sandra Yu holds a B.S. in Management Engineering and a M.A. in Politcal Economy
Sandra Yu currently works at the ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific and Decent Work Technical Support Teams (DWT) in Bangkok as a specialist on local strategies for decent work. Prior to the ILO, she worked at research organizations with a specific focus on livelihood support, business development, urban settlements, and the informal economy.

It was when Sandra was engaged in a research initiative on business development services in the Philippines that she first became curious about cooperatives. While initially focused on their support to small businesses, she gradually became interested in a range of services covering a whole life-cycle from education to health care and mortuary support. She further looked into cooperatives’ vision and leadership, the range of services, membership growth, how mission is sustained across generations and the advantages and disadvantages of the cooperative enterprise model. For this purpose, she studied a credit cooperative started by vendor groups (Novaliches Development Cooperative) and a multi-purpose cooperative formed among survivors of leprosy (Sikap Development Cooperative). Later, she also studied a primary cooperative affiliated with the Federation of Free Farmers in Occidental Mindoro Province.

While Sandra worked generally on the development of enterprises among the poor in the Philippines, she kept coming across cooperatives because of the prominence of the movement in the country. She wrote about a cooperative formed by retirees of a leading conglomerate in the Philippines which received support from the conglomerate in initial start-up and logistics contracts (e.g. relaxing procurement policies, lending trucks and training managers). She also supported a business partner in training and counselling clients in starting up worker cooperatives where worker members are committed to a common vision, share risks, and jointly solve problems by combining their skills and confidence.

At the ILO DWT in Bangkok, while working on local economic development, rural employment and formalization of the informal economy, Sandra has supported some of ILO’s work on cooperative development in the region including the cooperative law reform in Mongolia in late 2000 and cooperative business development in Viet Nam with the help of My.COOP training package. More recently, she worked on the ILO’s Local Empowerment through Economic Development (LEED) project in Northern Province of Sri Lanka aiming at poverty reduction, sustainable job creation and peace building for conflict-affected populations in the region. Cooperatives were instrumental in improving their income through enabling them to aggregate their products, link to exporters and enter joint ventures with companies. In addition to rolling out My.COOP for strengthening agricultural cooperative management capacities the project also contributed to the development of a national cooperative policy.

Sandra thinks that cooperatives should be recognized as a veritable form of enterprise and organization, along with commonly-known forms of limited liability corporations, partnerships and single proprietorships. While they are powerful vehicles for grouping small social and economic assets of disadvantaged groups, cooperatives can also offer society as a whole -- poor or non-poor -- an institutionalized vehicle for businesses that seek built-in self-help and solidarity mechanisms. Cooperatives provide templates in governance and organizational structures, accounting and financial practices, leadership and membership policies, and service options, with a vast range of knowledge pool on what has worked and what has not from both developing and developed countries. Cooperatives also benefit from apex oversight systems within countries and internationally, that can help ensure transparency and integrity while advancing good practices. The limitations of cooperatives, however, must also be well-understood in order to avoid repeating mistakes, prevent undue misuse of cooperative form that taints the name, and ensure that cooperatives are an efficient choice to support the founders’ objectives. The 17 goals of the 2030 Agenda rely on solidarity, shared goals and inclusive growth. Cooperatives as an organisational vehicle surely should have a place in the allocative functions implicit in most of the 17 goals.