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The cooperative sector in Thailand

The cooperative sector in Thailand is nearly a century old with a credit cooperative of small indebted farmers set up in 1916. As of January 2002, there were 5 617 cooperatives with more than eight million members. The three-tiered sector is made up of primary cooperatives at the village level, federations of three or more primary cooperatives at the provincial level and national federations of cooperatives.

There are an estimated 3 582 agricultural cooperatives - 64 percent of the total - with thrift and credit cooperatives making up another 24 percent. Service cooperatives (4 percent) and consumer cooperatives (8 percent) make up the rest.

All cooperatives are affiliated to the apex Cooperative League of Thailand (CLT), a statutory body set up in 1968 to promote cooperative affairs and facilitate communication among cooperatives, government and foreign institutions, as well as conduct research and offer technical advice. Other agencies dealing with cooperatives are the National Cooperative Development Board, the Office of the Registrar of Cooperatives, the Cooperative Promotion Department (CPD) of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, the Cooperative Audit Department and the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC).

The primary objective of the sector is to organize small producers to enable them to derive the benefits of large-scale business operations. The government organizes a number of training and other projects that promote cooperatives and work on cooperative principles. Good training manuals are being used for capacity-building in the areas of organization, management and good business (FAO 1998; CLT 2002).

Women's cooperative groups

Cooperatives reach out to a large number of rural people and are parent institutions for about 6 000 smaller rural women's groups in activities that include:

However, about half of these groups are now defunct. A large number of women's groups registered with cooperatives had availed of a government loan to assist rural people after the economic crisis of the late 1990s. Many of them presented the cooperatives and the government with business plans that were not viable. Some businesses failed and the groups lost either the whole or part of their working capital assistance. In several cases, women's group members/leaders did not use the money for the stated business purposes and never returned the money to the group's account with the cooperative.

One-fourth of the surviving groups have good business operations. Others need to build their capacities to improve business performance. Typically, 30 to 50 percent of the members in these groups are active participants in the group's business, working three to four hours a day. Another 50 percent of the women's groups in business face problems related to accessibility and cost of raw material, product quality, insufficient sales and, therefore, insufficient work for group members.

A majority of the existing women's groups seek support from the Cooperative Promotion Department to improve their performance.

Need for developing entrepreneurial capacities among rural women's cooperative groups in Thailand

While women's cooperative groups have been set up as part of the government's efforts to help increase the incomes of women, the focus is more on providing support than on building capacities, thereby creating dependence on various government departments.

Rural women's cooperative groups have several needs for enhancing the viability and sustainability of their businesses. Some of these can be met by training, while others require different kinds of support.

They need capacity-building support which improves their ability to manage their own businesses. This attitude must be promoted both among members of women's groups as well as the facilitators.

The aim of this training kit is to assist rural women to become individual or group entrepreneurs and managers of cooperative businesses instead of helping set up enterprises per se.

Rural women's cooperative groups in Thailand cover a wide range of businesses. Some of their training needs are the same, for example those relating to business and accounting concepts. Other training needs, especially those related to technology, differ across sectors.

Several of these needs can be met by training members of the women's groups. As a long-term strategy, training is better than providing services because it enables the women to take charge of their own businesses.

The following needs have been stated by rural women's groups and identified by government staff and trainers:

Enterprise support needs

Training needs

Information building and networking

Principles and practice of cooperation

Marketing support and linkages

Gender issues in cooperatives and group businesses

Technical linkages

Upgradation of technical skills

Credit linkages

Design, product development and packaging

Other services

Costing and pricing of products
Financial management
Marketing management
Business management Institutional linkages

Objectives of the training kit

The major objective of the kit is to provide a tool for enhancing the viability and sustainability of rural women's cooperative businesses by helping build their capacities to manage, promote, expand and diversify their businesses.

The kit can be used by CPD staff to help transform the rural women's groups into vibrant cooperative businesses. The aim is to assist:

the CPD to move from being a provider of finance and support, to becoming a facilitator; its staff to be catalysts for promoting entrepreneurship by rural women instead of being hand-holders;

rural women's groups to move from dependence to self-reliance and from being small income generating groups to vibrant cooperative businesses.

The training kit also offers a tool for initiating a women farmer demand-led process for identification and delivery of production support services. It will enable rural women's cooperative groups to understand their businesses better, articulate their needs, be business rather than grant-oriented and improve their businesses. This, in turn, will help improve CPD response to the enterprise support needs of the women's groups and cultivate entrepreneurial promotion attitudes among CPD staff.

Key elements of the training kit

1. Attention to attitudinal change: The entrepreneurial attitude is the key to starting and sustaining enterprises. This attitude needs to be instilled in both women's group members as well as facilitators.

2. Attention to gender relations: This is a neglected subject with a lack of gender- disaggregated data on cooperatives, particularly on membership, management and leadership. In general, both women and men are reluctant to challenge the positions of men in top leadership positions. A note and a handout offer guidance on steering discussion on the subject.

3. Attention to the Thai cultural context: The ways in which Thai women and trainers learn best have been taken into account while designing the methodology and training material.

4. Focus on four rural enterprise sectors: The sectors have been chosen from those with a greater concentration of women's groups and those selected for the government's One Tambon, One Product scheme. A regional balance has also been attempted in the selection of the sectors. The following sectors and regions have been selected:

Food: all regions
Textiles: northeast Thailand
Handicrafts: north and central Thailand
Wood: north and northeastern Thailand

How to use the kit

This training kit can be used for a single training programme of two to three weeks, on a half-day or full day schedule. However, this is by no means the only way it can be used.

It is good to cover all sections in the training kit over a one-month or year-long period to impart basic enterprise training to the women so they can take care of the management and growth of their own businesses.

The training modules

1. Introduction to the programme/objectives sharing
2. Concept of business
3. Gender issues in cooperative women's group businesses
4. Costing & pricing
5. Bookkeeping and financial statements
6. Marketing
7. Savings, risk management and use of profits
8. Business plan
9. Leadership and team work
10. Networking
11. Monitoring and evaluation of businesses
12. Evaluation of training
13. Sector case studies

Flexibility in use

The kit offers flexibility in:

Each section is divided into several sessions. Trainers can pick up sessions that are most suited to the needs of their trainees. For instance, they may choose a three-day training programme with one day devoted to cooperative principles, another to marketing and a third to bookkeeping. Or they may choose a three- day programme on marketing alone and follow it up with a three-day programme on bookkeeping. The training material on each topic can be adapted for in-depth and longer duration training or for short duration training.

Sometimes, trainees who are already in business cannot participate all day in the training. For instance, those engaged in dairying must take care of cattle early in the morning and then in the afternoon. Trainers should design flexible sessions suited to the trainees' needs.

The kit includes four different handout sets, along with case studies covering the four sectors. The case studies can be used for sector-specific training programmes. The kit can also be used to train participants from more than one sector by using case studies from each sector.

Selecting the training modules

The trainees must go through the entire set of skills and attitudes training for a good understanding of rural cooperative business. Groups already established in business may only want to learn about bookkeeping and marketing and may not see the need for learning about business ideas generation.

However, such groups may reach a stage when the future potential of their product range is limited and they find it necessary to look for a new business. If they do not have skills in generating business ideas, they will have to seek outside help. The skills for business ideas generation must, therefore, be acquired by all rural women's cooperative enterprises and not only by those in the start-up stages.

The logic for acquiring most other entrepreneurial skills is similar. It is better to provide members of a rural women's cooperative enterprise with advance training in these skills rather than wait for a time when these are needed for solving a specific problem.

Each module has three elements. The first introduces the module, informing trainers/participants what will be learnt in that module. The number of sessions and estimated time are also given at the beginning of each module.

This is followed by a description of the sessions, a session guide and the material/handouts needed for each session. Finally, a few pages summarize what has been learnt. This also serves as a checklist to evaluate whether participants have acquired the required level of learning.

The training modules in the kit include basic enterprise training for all rural women's cooperative groups. There may be need for additional training in technical subjects, like quality of production, technology, type of weaving, cost reduction, design, packaging, etc. The CPD uses its guest faculty for teaching these subjects to groups. This makes it possible to bring the best and most appropriate technology and design expertise to train the women's groups. However, attention to the following aspects will make guest faculty training more efficient and effective:

Planning the training

Using own trainers

The strength of the CPD is its countrywide network of training facilities at the provincial level. It is better for the CPD as well as CLT to develop in-house training capacities. External trainers are often not aware of the developments in rural women's cooperative groups and may not know how to teach the subject in a manner suited to the needs of the latter.

Selecting enterprise trainers

Good business skills

Selecting the trainers

Rural enterprise training needs not only experience but also an attitude emphasizing self-reliance rather than dependence. Trainers must have good business skills themselves and it is useful if some of them have established or managed businesses. Officers with spouses in business often make good enterprise trainers. The trainers must be motivated for capacity-building; they also need good contacts with other support agencies so that they can refer the trainees to specialist services needed by rural women entrepreneurs. Finally, it is important that there are as many women as men in the trainer group. Women trainers serve as role models and are better able to inspire women trainees.

Training of trainers

It is necessary to have regular training of trainers (TOT) programmes so that a large number of trainers for training rural women's cooperative groups are available. Regular TOTs will also ensure that when trainers are transferred across regions, others will be available to continue the training.

Participatory training should be an essential element of the TOT programmes. Participatory training techniques are the main characteristic of the training kit and have been found useful by the participants.

Preparation for training

It is important to ensure that the trainers have enough time for the planning, preparation and conduct of the training. The Directors of the CPD regional training centres must give priority to the training of the women's groups and provide them with the time and budgets required.

A seating arrangement that is U shaped is recommended for the training instead of the traditional, classroom-seating as this facilitates participation by all trainees.

Selecting the trainees

Although the training modules are meant for all members of rural women's cooperative groups it may not be possible to train all members at the same time. In such cases, specific modules can be used with group members responsible for those tasks.

The selection of the trainees is critical to the success of the training. The modules must also be selected according to the needs of prospective participants. The trainers must spend time with the participants, analysing their needs before inviting them for the training.

Moreover, the participants must be grouped on the basis of training needs. For instance, if the training is in accounts, group members responsible for accounts must be invited. Different members of a group must be invited as participants to the training programmes. When only group leaders attend each training programme, the impact is limited. Group capacity-building is more effective when different members of the group are trained in rotation.

The priority target members for the modules are listed in table below:


Priority for participating members

Introduction and objectives sharing

All members, group leaders, local leaders and leaders/managers of parent cooperatives

Understanding women's group businesses

All members, leaders

Gender issues in group businesses

All members

Costing and pricing

Members in charge of accounts, marketing, leaders

Book keeping and financial statements

All members, especially the accounts writer and the leader


All members, especially the marketing in-charge and the leader

Savings, risk management and use of profits

All members, especially committee members

Business plan

All members

Leadership and team work

All members, leaders


All members, leaders, public relations in charge, marketing in charge

Monitoring and evaluation of businesses

All members, especially committee members

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