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National PR Workshop on "Forging Strategic Alliances and Partnerships in Cooperatives"

The three day National PR Workshop on "Forging Strategic Alliances and Partnership in Cooperatives" was organised by National Cooperative Union of India from 8th – 10th November, 2006 at Delhi. The main objective of the Workshop was to formulate effective PR strategies for cooperatives in the wake of the changing economic scenario.

Inaugurating the Workshop, Shri Shankar Singh Vaghela, Union Minister of Textiles said that effective PR is the growing need of the day. Elaborating on the virtues of cooperative concept, Shri Vaghela said that cooperation is a good middle way between capitalism and communism. In this respect, he praised the commendable work of Amul which was successful in the competition with famous private sector brands like Nestle and Hindustan Lever. He also appreciated the marketing strategy of Amul which had shown its competency in coming up with value-added products which were able to capture the market in a big way. Calling for formulating good PR strategies which can attract the youth and women, Shri Vaghela lamented that the people involved in cooperatives are not imbued with service motto, as a result of which cooperatives lack appeal. He called for developing cooperatives in a real way though a life mission which can motivate the people to join cooperatives. Shri Vaghela had special reference to active participation of women in cooperatives, in this respect he felt that women should have compulsory reservation in cooperatives.

Dr. U.S. Awasthi, M.D., IFFCO who was the Chief Guest in the Inaugural Function expressed happiness that the PR issues in cooperatives are getting due attention. He made an important suggestion that cooperatives at all levels should, think of having their own print media to project a vibrant image of the sector. He felt that the topic for the Workshop was very topical at a time when cooperative sector was in look out partners to meet the challenges of market economy. He felt that PR is important for cooperatives so that the messages of development can be disseminated in the under developed areas of the country. Dr. Awasthi on the occasion made an important observation that every employee in a cooperative organisation is a PR person, and PR is not the function of only PR Department. He felt that broadening the horizons of PR is important, and PR should not be seen in the form of a "caged tiger". He also highlighted the rapid strides made by IFFCO in the field of Information Technology, and in this respect IFFCO has given due consideration to the regional language variations as seen from the kiosks of IFFCO care in the sixteen languages. He also remarked that every official of IFFCO, even its field staff is a PR person. He on the occasion referred to a survey made by NOKIA in the rural areas in which the villagers showed their preference for the IFFCO handset, instead of Nokia sets. "IFFCO's strong bondage with the farmers is clearly visible", he said.

Shri Bhagwati Prasad, Chief Executive, NCUI speaking on the occasion highlighted the important initiatives taken by NCUI to strong then the PR in the cooperative sector. He gave full support to Dr. Awasthi's suggestion of starting print media for cooperatives to highlight the achievements of the cooperative sector. He also pointed out that due to initiatives taken by NCUI, the Indian cooperative sector was well represented at the International PR Conference in Brasilia organised by Global Alliance.

Dr. Ajit Pathak, National President, Public Relations Society of India present on the occasion said that the Public Relations Society of India had set up a Cooperative Chapter taking into account the significance of the cooperative sector in the national economy. He expressed happiness that the conference has been convened at a time when the PR activities in the cooperative sector have increased.

The three day workshop had various technical Session. The first Session was on "Globalisation, Corporate Governance with Business Efficiency and Role of PR in Cooperatives". While Shri Alok Ranjan, IAS, M.D., NAFED chaired the Session, Shri Bhagwati Prasad, Chief Executive, NCUI and Shri B.D. Sharma, Sr. Consultant, International Cooperative Alliance Regional Office were the resource Persons. Speaking on the occasion, Shri Alok Ranjan, MD, NAFED, Chairman of the Session said that the relevance of cooperatives is much in the present context at a time when cooperatives can provide a good platform in organising the marginalised section of the society. Shri B.D. Sharma, Sr. Consultant, ICA-ROAP speaking on the occasion said that in the era of globalisation, cooperatives are finding difficult to balance the members' and market needs. On this occasion, he listed the positive and negative aspects of globalisation. He opined that on account of globalisation, cooperatives are facing difficulties in marketing their values which are their real advantages. He pointed out to real the reality that the countries where cooperatives have tried to imitate corporates by converting themselves into companies, the results are not good. He mooted an important suggestion that cooperatives should exhibit their innovation by entering sectors like health, education, etc. Reflecting on corporate governance, he said that corporate governance is more comprehensive than professional management of cooperatives, and in this respect he opined that imbibing of cooperative values is important in cooperative functioning, only then cooperatives can distinguish themselves as compared to other organisations. He felt that corporate governance in cooperatives is meant to strengthen self-regulation and self-reliance of cooperatives. Shri Sharma made an important observation that value-based management in cooperatives is important, and this has been accepted world-wide. Shri Sharma highlighted the important factors in corporate governance which are important for cooperative. There are – social auditing, upto-date, mission statement, specific charter of values, code of business ethics, etc. As regards Public Relations, Shri Sharma said that cooperative PR practitioners are expected to say how cooperatives are different from other organisations. Shri Sharma said, "PR practitioners should act as link between cooperatives and public".

Shri Ashok B. Sharma, Agriculture Editor, Financial Express speaking on the occasion said that in the wake of globalisation and liberalisation, cooperatives have their own relevance. He made an important observation that Principle of Cooperatives is borne out of necessity. He emphasised that cooperative is more a principle than an institution while comparing cooperatives with corporates, Shri Sharma said that while corporates depend on public support, the base of cooperatives is more broader as the people and members are vital supports for cooperatives. He called for generating adequate awareness among members. "Then only cooperatives can be strengthened", he felt. He felt that in unfair regime of globalisation, cooperatives have important place. He further opined that strong PR strategies should be formulated so that cooperatives can go to the people to mobilise support. While arguing for preferential treatment to cooperatives in the form of exemption from taxes, he asserted that cooperatives should mobilise, resources on their own. Shri Sharma in the end opined that as there is anguish against globalisation as people are not sure what alternative can succeed, it is the best chance for cooperatives to prove their mettle.

Shri Bhagwati Prasad, Chief Executive, NCUI in his presentation highlighting the role of ICT in cooperatives said emphatically that in the era of globalisation with reduction of role of public sector and emphasis on private sector, the cooperatives are more relevant in bridging the devide between the rich and the poor. He felt that in this scenario the role of PR becomes more prominent. Shri Prasad further said that as compared to other organisations, cooperatives have proved to be the best crisis management organisations". He pointed out that when there is shortage of commodities for example, onion crisis or providing necessary inputs, help from cooperatives is immediately sought. He lamented that when the crisis is over, cooperatives are forgotten. He opined that there is negative propaganda against cooperatives despite cooperatives doing good work at all levels. He made an important observation that cooperatives have not been able to strengthen their image due to financial crunch, lack of professionalism, etc. He felt that to boost their image, the cooperative should have their own print media. He felt that in the changing scenario, PR activity is the work of every cooperative organisation, and it is not limited to PR Department only. He on the occasion mentioned the formation of National Committee in PR in cooperatives which had come up with a Report on the status of PR in cooperatives. While highlighting the main recommendations of the PR Committee, he felt that these recommendations should be given a serious thought by all the cooperative organisations. Shri Prasad then dealt in detail the role of ICT in cooperatives with reference to the cases of Warana Bazar, Akash Ganga and IFFCO.

In the Second Session on Information, Communication and Technology—Cooperatives Experience, the session was chaired by Shri Osama Manzar, Founder Director, Digital Empowerment Foundation. The other resource persons on the occasion were Shri Gaurav Vats, Head Agriwatch Portal, Shri Satyen Naik, Manager (IT), Sumul Dairy, Surat , Shri Lalit Kumar, IFFCO. In the beginning, Shri Osama Manzar gave a call to the cooperative representatives to think how they can contribute to the ICT agenda of the country. He felt the ICT potentialities of the cooperatives are still untapped "With 25 crore members, cooperatives can contribute a lot to ICT", he said. He felt that 25 crores members of cooperatives can create a web content which can make the world recognise the contributions of the Indian Cooperative Movement. He further said that with Government plans to set 100 thousand kiosks all over the country, cooperatives can contribute a lot to ICT.

Speaking on the occasion Shri Gaurav Vats, Head, Agriwatch Portal said that the portal provides the minutest information to all the people who are involved in agri-business. He felt that as cooperatives have an important role to play in agricultural development, they can become good partners in the Agriwatch venture.

Shri Satyen Naik, Manager (IT), Sumul Dairy, Surat speaking on the that with more than 1000 societies, the Dairy has strong IT base which provides requisite information at nearest point in rural areas. He further said that the IT project started for rural and socio-economic upliftment has paid rich dividends. The Dairy has now radio links, leased lines serving 1000 dairies, and 4 lakh customers are served in Surat . He also informed that 388 village societies running on the computer software are automated. He further said that village connectivity is Sumul's next project though e-mail, voice. He said that connecting cash centres electronically has led to increase in sales. He also said that Sumul dairy has also on-line shopping system. Besides, all the distributors are linked to data base.

Speaking on the occasion, Lalit Kumar from IFFCO said that in the recent years IFFCO has been very much successful in reaching the farmers through ICT. He said that IFFCO has strong bond with the farmers, and the IFFCO Portal contains very useful information for the farmers. The Kiosks set up by IFFCO have been providing information to the farmers on a multitude of agricultural issues in a very timely manner which was not possible earlier. He said that IFFCO's ICT initiatives have more wider coverage than e-chaupal initiative by ITC.

The afternoon Session was focused on "Involvement of Women and Youth in Cooperatives". While Dr. S.S. Sisodia, President, NCUI chaired the Session, Mrs. Sumitra Gowaikar, Director, Bhagini Nivedita Mahila Urban Cooperative Bank, Pune and Shri V. Murilidharan, Chairman, National Yuva Cooperative Federation, New Delhi were the other resource persons. Dr. S.S. Sisodia, President, NCUI set the ball by remarking that people in general don't have proper knowledge about cooperatives though there are many achievements. "That is why the Role of PR is important", he said. Mrs. Sumitra Gowaikar, speaking on the occasion highlighted the main features behind the success of Bhagini Nivedita Bank, She informed that the Bank is run by women only, election is held after five years, all six Directors are Women, and there is adequate representation to SC, STS. She further said that the illiteracy of women does not come in way of their operating accounts. She also observed that the recruitment is done on merit, there are training programmes, and all the branches are computerised.

Shri V. Murlidharan, Chairman, National Yuva Cooperative Federation called for devising powerful PR strategies to attract the youth in the cooperative movement. While maintaining that after independence youth were attracted to the cooperative movement, in a big way he said that the time is ripe for creating such conditions in the present context so that the youth are motivated to join the cooperative movement. He then explained the good qualities which youth posses, and which can be used for the cooperative movement. He exhorted the cooperatives to face the challenges of market economy, and in this respect he felt that the involvement of youth would be very useful for the success of the cooperative movement.

The next session was on " Brand Building , Image Management and Interaction with News Media". While Shri Sushil Pandit, CEO, The Hive & Exchange Media.com chaired the session, Shri Jayen Mehta, AGM (Mktg.), GCMMF, Anand, Prof. Subhash Dhuliya, Professor of Communication & head of Education, Research & Training, Unit of IGNOU, New Delhi, Shri Sudhir Sharma, Head of Strategy, Percept Advertising were the other Resource Persons. Shri Jain Mehta, AGM, Amul speaking on the occasion highlighted the strengths of Amul Brand in India . He praised the marketing strategy of Amul which has made Amul a world-wide name. He described Amul as the largest food products company in the world. He said that in Gujarat 86 lakh litres of milk is collected everyday. He further said that altogether 55 products of Amul have been launched. Regarding the competition with other private players like Nestle, Unilever he said that Amul has number one market share in the world. He said that the milk movement is spread in altogether 13,000 villages. Praising the distribution network of Amul which has been quite successful, he said that Amul earlier did not have its own distribution network and it was given to private companies like Voltas . After 1992 liberalisation, Shri Mehta said that Amul has been able to face the competition, and nurture its brands. He further said that for wider dissemination through web, in 1996 amul.com was set up, and Amul also set up regional hubs for e-commerce. Pointing towards Amul's diversification in the recent times, he said that Amul has set up 500 parlours all over the country.

Prof. Subhash Dhuliya, Professor of Communication & Head of Education, Research & Training, Unit of IGNOU in his presentation on interactions with News Media said that PRO's are not skilled enough to evaluate news items as far as newsworthiness is concerned. He felt that a PRO has to be a good journalist, and he has to act as a wide source of information for the press people. For this, he felt a PRO has to do proper background research, and identify the people who are experts in their areas, and also must go to the grass-root level for collecting information. He also said that PRO should not shirk from sharing informat with journalists. For an ideal press release, he felt that identifying all the stakeholders is important for sending the right message. He also suggested that besides press release and press note, feature form of story should also be considered while communicating with the journalists. He also said that organising interviews is equally important for PROs. In this, he felt that anticipating the questions, and identifying the sharp angles of the stories are equally important.

Shri Sudhir Sharma, Head of Strategy, Percept Advertising said that generally brand-building is viewed from consumption angle. He felt that a brand signifies human emotion, and in this respect he said that LORD Rama is itself a brand. He also in this respect praised Taste of India, the brand of Amul.

On 9th November, the session on "Crisis Communications" was held in the morning which was chaired by Shri Bhagwati Prasad, Chief Executive, NCUI. Shri Jyothindra Mehta, Chairman, Rajkot Urban Sahakari Bank and Prof. Iqbal Sachdeva, a noted Columnist and Journalist were the other Resource Persons. Shri Bhagwati Prasad, Chief Executive, NCUI highlighted the need for the stakeholders of cooperatives to anticipate crisis by developing good PR strategies. Further, he felt a professional approach has to be undertaken. Prof. Iqbal Sachdeva, a noted Columnist and Journalist speaking on the occasion acknowledged that managing crisis is an acid test for a PRO. He emphasised on developing crisis management plan with due emphasis to communications for averting a crisis. He also said that a crisis management committee should be present in an organisation even when there are no chances of crisis. The PRO while acting as a spokesman should ensure that the image of an organisation is not affected. He advised PROs to give the stories to media in measured terms, and they should refrain from phrases like "no comments". He suggested that PROs should be tansparent in their interactions with media, and they should never loose cool.

Shri Jyothindra Mehta, Chairman, Rajkot Urban Sahakari Bank, Rajkot speaking on the Madhavpura Urban Cooperative Bank scam, said that the crisis was not at all anticipated. He said that the factors of crisis were communicated to the people through employees and media which further the damage. He felt that if there was a certain level of crisis preparedness, the people world not have lost faith in the ability of the cooperative banks to deliver goods. As a lesson, he opined that crisis management is an on-going and continuous process. He felt that one should highlight one's strengths and present truth in a good way. "Then only we can handle the crisis", he said.

The Session on Media Relations was interesting for though-provoking issues. Shri Shishir Sinha, CNBC, Aawaz speaking on the occasion emphasised on objectivity in news reporting. He advised cooperatives to come up with sexy news items which may attract the attention of the press. For this, he felt that cooperative PR persons should come up with a model which may highlight its good points as compared to other organisations while interacting with media. He felt that cooperatives do not remain in news because every cooperative is not national in its approach, as there are many regional variations in cooperatives. He asked PR personnel to create a conducive atmosphere in which journalists may show interest in stories on cooperatives, instead of asking the journalists repeatedly to publish stories. He felt the role of PR is important in sensitising the mainstream journalists as the mainstream journalists' understanding of cooperatives does not go beyond Amul.

Shri Surinder Sood, Agriculture Editor, Business Standard and Chairman of the Session said that the cooperative PR personnel should tailor-made their requirements according to the needs of mainstream media. He opined that requirements of print media is different from visual media. He emphasised the cooperatives to cultivate an image in which media takes the cooperatives seriously. He felt that cooperatives should not hide their weaknesses with the media. "Instead, a constructive or a positive approach should be undertaken in this regard", he said. He felt that a big challenge of cooperatives is to increase presence in media through effective PR strategies.

Shri Pranay Yadav, a Representative of India TV speaking on the occasion said that through good PR, the cooperatives can save themselves from negative reporting at the mainstream press. He suggested that PR people should go to the grass-root level and think in a visual way so that the appeal of the cooperative sector in electronic media is enhanced. For print media to be attracted to the cooperatives, the language of the cooperatives should be according to the needs of the target audience.

The last Session of the Workshop was on "Private and Civil Society Organisations Partnership in Cooperatives". While Shri P. Umashankar, IAS, MD, NCDC chaired the session, Shri Harshvir Singh, CEO, Reliance Retail and Shri Pooran Pande, CEO, VANI were the other resource persons. Shri P. Umashankar, MD, NCDC listed the advantages of cooperatives and private sector, and identified areas where they can come together. A positive point which he listed for coops are—huge network, wide penetration in the villages, huge production base due to their proximaty to produces emphasis an quality, right price and payment, etc. The advantages for private sector are— better marketing, technological product development, diverse salesmanship techniques, etc. He felt that if cooperatives and private sector can trade on each other's skills, then a win-win situation can be created. Speaking on the occasion, Shri Harshvir Singh, CEO, Reliance Retail narrated history of cooperative dairy movement in the country. He confidently said that Amul has taken on competition for Britania, Nestle on a successful note. He felt that wide penetration and proximity to farmers is the greatest strength of cooperatives. He also opined that as compared to cooperative sector, private sector does not have ethics. Due to this only, he observed that cooperative had an edge over private sector in the milk business. He said that while the biggest strength of cooperatives is their procurement, network, private sector has better access to technology leading to efficiency in operations. He suggested that in two areas, private–cooperative collaboration can be forged in the milk sector. Firstly, cooperatives can be a single source of procurement, and others can buy milk from cooperatives in order to encash economies of scale of cooperatives. A partnership may be developed in which cooperatives are allowed to manufacture goods in brand name of private sector. Shri Singh stressed on changing the mind-set for starting a new era in private - cooperative relationship. He opined, "There has to be changes in Cooperative Act, which can give cooperatives independence to establish links with private sector".

Shri P. Uma Shankar, MD, NCDC and Chairman of the Session said that as long as private sector inolves itself in ethical practices, there can be no problem in partnership. Shri Pooran Pande, CEO, VANI speaking the occasion said that voluntary sector has certain common attributes with cooperative sector, which can be a good starting point for developing the relations between the two. He felt that as both the sectors are trying to reach to the people at the grass-roots, they can work together. He provided an example that those parts of the country which have witnessed good NGO movement, the cooperatives have been strong. He also said that initially in the setting up of Amul, the help from the NGO sector was taken. He felt that cooperatives and NGOs can help in improving the governance of many institutions.

At the Valedictory function of the Workshop, Shri Ajit Kumar Singh, MP, Chairman, NAFED was the Chief Guest. Speaking on the occasion, Shri Ajit Kumar Singh said that the importance of PR in cooperatives in much at a time when cooperatives have failed to convince their good work amongst the common men. He also emphasised on training the leaders in the finer skills of public relations, then only a big boost to strengthening the cooperative sector can be given. Earlier, Dr. S.S. Sisodia, in his opening remarks said that the role of PR is very important in removing the misgivings about the functioning of cooperatives in common man. He felt that at a time when a call has been given to strengthen cooperative sector in every country at UN level, PR should not be neglected. Shri Bhagwati Prasad, Chief Executive, NCUI said that at the level of NCUI, may initiatives have been undertaken to strengthen PR in the cooperative. He said that NCUI had earlier organised a very successful conference on "Strengthening Links Between Media and Cooperatives".
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