Co-op boards ‘need strategic thinking’ to deliver on job creation

Enhanced strategic thinking on food co-op and credit union boards will help the agri-food sector deliver on its job-creating potential, according to Professor Michael Ward of UCC.

Prof Ward said Irish agri-food stakeholders can retain control over the boom that will emerge from the post-2015 end of EU milk quota restrictions, but this will require new skills at board level. Head of food business and director of the Centre for Co-operative Studies at UCC, he was speaking at the launch of UCC’s new Rabobank Ireland 2012 Scholarship.

The scholarship is open to applications from voluntary or paid workers with a co-operative organisation or co-op support body intending to apply for UCC’s MBS in Co-operative and Social Enterprise by e-learning.

Prof Ward said: “From 2015 on, management of Ireland’s extra milk capacity will need to be controlled by farmers. For this, all of the people sitting on the boards of dairy co-ops will need to have the skills and the confidence to ask the right questions and to think strategically.

“Co-ops were earmarked for a role in the Government’s strategy on jobs, but the ideas need to be fleshed out more. Co-ops have real competitive advantages of their own, such as trust and the notion of democracy in business. While this means that it takes a little longer to arrive at a decision, the results can be better and longer lasting.”

As the UCC course is delivered online, participants spend very little time in Cork, which means the programme also draws participants from the West of Ireland and elsewhere.

Students learn the new board level skills while continuing to work in their co-ops, credit unions, volunteering and sports organisations.

The programme will commence in Sept 2012. Application forms are available on the UCC and Rabobank websites. The closing date is Jun 1.

Rabobank Ireland chief executive Kevin Knightly said: “Being a co-operative enables Rabobank to truly understand and appreciate the benefits which a co-op structure can bring to an organisation and as a bank we are keen to continue to strengthen the co-operative movement in Ireland through education.”

UCC president Michael Murphy said: “UCC is committed to forging stronger relationships with industry and in engaging proactively in research and education which is of direct relevance to the needs of modern day businesses.

“The provision of this scholarship by Rabobank Ireland is recognition of its commitment to co-operative education and research.”

UCC’s Centre for Co-op Studies also offers a BSc in Rural Development and other community enterprise programmes. A number of people move from the BSc onto the MBS. The courses also have the advantage of bringing together people from different sectors, as well as offering insights into co-operative initiatives in other European countries.


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