Malta can foster cooperation as a viable alternative to myopic competition | Victor Fiorini

We spend a substantial chunk of our lives at the workplace and it should be nothing short of a rewarding experience | Victor Fiorini, Malta Cooperative Federation

A country’s wealth creation and economic success are usually associated with a high standard of living. But this can only be true if wealth is distributed fairly. There is little to be proud of when profits remain the privilege of the few while most have to make do with inadequate wages.

Malta can move away from the asymmetric traditional business model where a few shareholders reap all the profits while working people struggle to make ends meet. Instead, we can opt for a fairer way of doing business. A model where more persons experience joint business ownerships and share profits. The cooperative model does exactly this.

Co-operatives are people-centred enterprises owned, controlled and run by and for their members. Members of a cooperative take centre-stage in the running of their business, make decisions together, and reap the benefits of their work more equitably. They do so by following the seven international co-operative principles: voluntary and open membership; democratic member control; member economic participation; autonomy and independence; education, training and information; cooperation among cooperatives; and concern for community.

In Malta, these principles have already led to successful cooperative enterprises in various areas including maritime, media, education, business services, arts, transport, and tourism. Internationally, the cooperative movement can boast of very successful cooperatives such as FC Barcelona, Bayern Munich, KPMG International, CONAD, John Lewis, Sunkist and The Associated Press. Almost 10%of the world’s population is a cooperative member.

As a country, we are constantly searching for new sectors that could create new investment and employment opportunities. We constantly talk about financial services and the gaming sectors. We contend that the cooperative economy is a viable opportunity for investment and employment. Moreover, being a democratic model of business based on principles, apart from being economically viable, it is ethical and socially beneficial.

The Malta Cooperative Federation has just launched its proposals for the 2022 national parliamentary elections, aptly entitled: ‘Unlocking Malta’s Co-operative Potential’. The proposals are intended to create the necessary environment and culture, that encourages more people to actively participate in the wealth that they are already creating.

For a start, the Malta Cooperative Federation is asking for clear political commitment at the highest levels that acknowledges the Cooperatives as an important pillar of the Maltese economy. This would send a clear message that Malta is open for cooperative business and that it is promoting a more equitable distribution of wealth that creates a better sense of ownership of the wealth being created.

There is nothing stopping us as a country to expand the cooperative model in areas that would benefit the community and consumers, including banking, renewable energy and housing. To do this, we need to embark on a comprehensive legislative exercise that, on one hand, strengthens cooperative regulation and on the other removes hindrances to the setting up of cooperatives in various sectors.

The next Government should commit to passing the Social Enterprise Act as soon as possible, and provide effective support for the setting up of community-based cooperatives.

As a country, we need to foster a culture where cooperation is seen as a viable alternative to myopic competition. For this reason, we believe that students should be introduced to the cooperative model early on in their lives. We need to develop a new breed of social entrepreneurs that can contribute to idea generation and successful cooperatives in different areas of the economy.

Starting our working days should be something we look forward to. We spend a substantial chunk of our lives at the workplace and it should be nothing short of a rewarding experience. Being part of a cooperative provides the possibility that the efforts and skills we put into our work every day will create wealth that is distributed fairly, and that benefits the community as a whole.

The 2022 national elections are an opportunity to decisively strengthen the cooperative sector in Malta. At this juncture of our nation’s development, with all the challenges we currently face, we can all benefit by unlocking Malta’s cooperative potential.

Victor Fiorini is advocacy and administrative officer at the Malta Cooperative Federation