Influencer Eldrid Fos

Interview April 2019

Eldrid could you share with me some information of your family life?
My name is Eldrid Fos. I was born in Curaçao, I have 4 sisters and 4 brothers. My parents are still alive and in their eighties. I am happily married and I have 3 children. 

We became interested in interviewing you as we believe that the world is becoming flatter in the sense that organizations are becoming less hierarchical. In that sense we were very interested to know how cooperativism can play a role in being a serious option for the increasing number of small business owners.
Great, because I firmly believe that cooperativism can offer them a sustainable alternative. I teach the principles of cooperativism and I have this saying: “Think more out of the boss”, meaning be your own boss. As we already exist for over 50 years in Curaçao and are still growing, we constantly teach people “how to catch fish” instead of “begging to have someone give them fish”. Two of the cooperative principles at stake are, accepting your own responsability (autoresponsibility) and self help.

Eldrid could you share with us some of your educational background and past professional experiences?
I did my VWO at MIL; HEAO- Commercial Economy at the Hogeschool Enschede and Business Administration (Bedrijfswetenschappen) at Radboud University with a specialization in HR. I’m a certified information systems auditor(CISA) and certified information security manager (CISM).

As I was finalizing my studies at Radboud, I applied and entered the corporate world as a SAP Consultant at SAP Den Bosch in the Netherlands. I have always worked when I was a student, I was for example loader on a garbage truck for 3 years and operator at a recycling company. So before I started in the corporate world at SAP and going to work with a tie, I had learned to interact with all sorts of people either as colleagues or with people of the neighborhoods where I worked and this was a blessing of sorts, as it helped me to stay with my both legs on the ground. I also gave me valuable real life experiences, so that concepts I was studying at school and the university were more easily understood by me. I have no regret, working while I was doing my studies.

After SAP, I became a Consultant at Orgainfo; a senior Application Administrator at British American Tobacco and Senior Auditor at SOAB where I started working in 2003;

As a human being in an ever increasing complex world, you can’t excell in all areas, so a person has to choose one area and strive for excellence in that chosen area. So for myself I decided to dedicate myself over the last 12 to 13 years to cooperativism. My family background neither my professional background originated from cooperativism. I decided to apply for a function for ACU (the largest financial cooperative on the island), as I was working at that time at SOAB and started to study more deeply cooperativism in 2006 and in 2007 I started working at ACU, instead of staying a passive member, I decided to become more deeply involved in cooperativism. At ACU I was Human Resources Manager, Operations Manager and later on General Manager; After ACU I decided to continue as an independent consultant and interim manager.

Eldrid could you explain your formal position of Fekoskan and how long have you been holding this position? Have you always had a career in cooperativism?
I am now the general manager of Fekoskan and its subsidiary The Curaçao Cooperative Academy Foundation since 1 January 2018.

Could you describe more in detail what cooperativism is what are the 7 principles that it is based on?
Cooperatives are people-centred enterprises owned, controlled and run by and for their members to realise their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations.

Cooperatives bring people together in a democratic and equal way. Whether the members are the customers, employees, users or residents, cooperatives are democratically managed by the “one member, one vote”- rule. Members share equal voting rights regardless of the amount of capital they put into the enterprise.

As businesses driven by values, not just profit, cooperatives share internationally agreed principles and act together to build a better world through cooperation. Putting fairness, equality and social justice at the heart of the enterprise, cooperatives around the world are allowing people to work together to create sustainable enterprises that generate long-term jobs and prosperity.

Cooperatives allow people to take control of their economic future and, because they are not owned by shareholders, the economic and social benefits of their activity stay in the communities where they are established. Profits generated are either reinvested in the enterprise or returned to the members. Cooperatives thus increase the wealth and build the strength of the community.

Cooperativism in it’s modern form, started in 1844 in England in Rochdale and its philosophy and business model was tweaked and time tested as concept. The cooperative movement is far for being a marginal phenomenon, at least 12% of humanity is a cooperator of any of the 3 million cooperatives on earth. Cooperatives provide jobs or work opportunities to 10% of the employed population, and the three hundred top cooperatives or cooperative groups generate 2.2 trillion USD in turnover while providing the services and infrastructure society needs to thrive. What is remarkable is that the richest countries also have strong cooperatives. Even in countries like China you also have large cooperatives.

Cooperatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, cooperative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others. The cooperative principles are guidelines by which cooperatives put their values into practice.
• Voluntary and Open Membership
• Democratic Member Control
• Member Economic Participation
• Autonomy and Independence
• Education, Training, and Information
• Cooperation among Cooperatives
• Concern for Community

People, values and principles, that is what it is all about. And it isn’t something that will be internalized just after attending one course. One has to go through a process of continuously being confronted with what was learned and repeating it, to ultimately make it stick. When I was working as a consultant to SAP, I learned to value the importance of processes in organizations and learned to think in processes, as SAP was an instrument to make processes more efficient. If you love the process, in the end the results will come. This is also true for value education.

We can also notice that even in undemocratic countries, cooperativism has been an ideal instrument to teach people to learn and apply democratic values. It becomes a breeding ground to learn these principles and in that sense it becomes an island within that country as it applies the “One man, One vote”- principle irrespective of how much money one person has invested.

Contrary to corporate companies based on the shareholders’ principle, where your investment determines ultimately your voting rights. And it has been proven, that in the end cooperativism also takes long term interests of the people and the community into account, which is not always the case in companies structured based on a share holders-principle.

Cooperative “checks and balances” has a build in system to cleanse, even though there have been instances where mistakes have been made. But still as the highest entity are the members, these members tend to go back to their basics, the cooperative values and principles and there is where the cleansing happens ultimately. Just by asking “Why” 5 times and based on equality and honesty discussing the issues involved.

What types of cooperatives exist? Could you expand on these different type’s of cooperatives?
One of the more universally accepted views in classifying cooperatives in the Caribbean and around the world is by its ownership structure, namely who are the members. Using this lens, cooperatives can be viewed as fitting into one of the following types:
1. Consumer – owned by consumers/customers who buy goods or services from the cooperative
2. Producer – owned by producers (also considered workers) of commodities or crafts who have joined forces to process and market their products
3. Worker – owned and democratically governed by employees (not necessarily Producers) who become co-op members
4. Multi-Stakeholder – owned by a combination of different types of members (e.g. consumer AND worker cooperative members)

Some of the more common cooperatives are for example:
• Financial Cooperatives
• Insurances
• Agricultural Cooperatives
• Fishery cooperatives
• Artisan Cooperatives
• Food Cooperatives
• Housing Cooperatives
• Utility Cooperatives
• Worker Cooperatives
• Retail cooperatives
• etc

The most common cooperatives in Curaçao are:
• Financial cooperatives (credit unions)
o Utility Credit Union
o Aviashon
o Kobata
o San Pedro
o Sta Famia

• Agricultural cooperatives
o Kooperativa Agrario Banda Bou
o Kooperativa Agrario Banda Ariba
o Kooperativa Agrario Hato

• Fishery Cooperatives
o Kooperativa di Piskado Daaibooi
o Kooperativa di Piskado Kura di Buriku
o Kooperativa di Piskado Playa Kanoa
o Some others are being incorporated, Caracasbaai, Santa Cruz, Piskadera

In a world that is becoming flatter and where network organizations are gaining ground and hierarchical organizations are loosing ground, what would be a business owner (a ZZP-er) their benefits, to be part of a production cooperative compared to other legal forms where business owners can team up?
A cooperative is a legal form with which independent entrepreneurs can achieve more by working together. By forming a collective, freelancers can benefit from various economies of scale and are more likely to be eligible for larger assignments that they cannot carry out alone. You come out as one company, only your cooperative will invoice clients. The profit is later distributed among the members.

The establishment of a cooperative makes it easier for the client because there is only one party to do business with. Invoicing also runs through one point of contact. With this legal form, the individual members can again benefit from economies of scale: marketing, purchasing, but also, for example, the sharing of costs of a business building. In addition, freelancers can mutually benefit from knowledge transfer and replaced of each other in the event of illness.

Other reasons businesses join cooperatives include:
• increase income
• increase bargaining power
• obtain products or services otherwise unavailable
• expand new and existing market opportunities
• improve product or service quality
• lower operating costs

Why would consumers join a consumer cooperative?
Cooperatives are member-owned corporations whose owners are also its customers. Thus, the members of cooperatives have a built-in incentive to work together and, in turn, with their cooperative’s staff to achieve better purchase prices, efficiencies, and value-added services.
In other words, a cooperative’s main advantage is that it exists and operates for the benefit of its patron members. At the same time, since the members are also the owners, they have a financial interest in the success of the cooperative which sways them toward giving it their full support and patronage. Afterall cooperative enterprises are based on transaction relationships with their members.

Cooperative members also have a voice in the control of the organization, and, within the limits of majority rule, it therefore supplies the kind of service they want. These advantages, which tend to tie the patrons to the organization by making them full partners, help build an assured volume of business. This in turn is favorable to efficient operation of the cooperative.

How are credit unions holding their ground as compliance guidelines of Central Banks are getting tighter and tighter and internet banking is taking a flight as they are not the typical banking organization?
First of all, I want to state that credit unions are not against regulations. The Central Bank regulations are intended to strengthen the regulatory framework for financial institutions, inclusive of credit unions. These regulations will foster a safer stronger credit union sector, with greater protection of members’ funds, through an enhanced regulatory framework.

On the other hand, our credit unions are now looking to provide more services to their members and their local communities at fair and reasonable rates. Regulations must not restrict credit unions from offering real choices to their members. After all, the governance model in credit unions is member-focused.

Besides that, credit union boards have traditionally comprised of directors democratically elected by the members, but they are facing increased regulatory pressure to model their governance structures on those often seen in investor-owned banks. Questions have been raised about whether credit union boards are able to provide effective strategic direction and oversight of senior management and internal control system.

We believe that training and education is the cornerstone for the development of the Curaçao Cooperative sector. This was also one of the main reasons for establishing the Curaçao Cooperative Academy last year.ems. Some have suggested that credit unions should change their board selection processes to ensure that directors have the necessary competencies to appropriately manage increasingly complex financial institutions. One may argue that changing the grassroots approach to selecting board directors undermines the essence of a credit union, reduces responsiveness to members, and has the potential to lead to demutualization.

What role could cooperativism play considering the different challenges our island is going through right now?
Cooperatives are close to a democratic, people-centered economy and I believe that cooperatives can play an increasingly important role in balancing economic, social and environmental concerns, as well as in contributing to poverty prevention and reduction.

Historically, cooperative businesses have been more resilient to the deepening global economic and jobs crises than other sectors. The fact that cooperative customers are at the same time cooperative owners is part of the answer since the surplus doesn’t go to shareholders, it stays within the company and benefits them all.

For this we will have to ensure that cooperatives in Curaçao have the modern legal frameworks they need for a sustainable development. I specifically call on the government to provide supportive policy and legal frameworks appropriate for the particular ownership structures and social values of cooperative businesses.

How come cooperativism in Latin America like a country like Costa Rica is so dominant in the whole economy?
The factors for cooperative success can be grouped into 13 categories:
• Supportive environment
• Sound advance planning
• Real economic benefits for members
• Skilled management
• Belief in cooperative concepts
• Grassroots development and leadership
• Financially self-sustaining
• Innovation and adaptation
• Effective structure and operations
• Networking with other cooperatives
• Communications
• Common member interests
• Education

Countries like Costa Rica and The Netherlands have developed and implemented the right policies to improve the sustainable development of cooperatives. According to the “Global Census on Co-operatives (2014)”, The Netherlands is in the top 10 countries in regard to Memberships & Clients/Population (6th place), Employment/Population (8th place) and Annual Gross Revenue/GDP (2nd place). Unfortunately, we as a country weren’t aware of this positioning of the Netherlands in order to make better use of this knowledge it in the past.

Do you believe that “konbibensha” is improved by cooperativism?
Yes, definitely. As member-controlled businesses, cooperatives employ democratic principles that put people first. By placing human need at their center, rather than profit, cooperatives overcome short-termism and introduce real choice in how business is done. Cooperatives promote the fullest possible participation in the economic and social development of all people, including women, youth, older persons and persons with disabilities.

Through self-help and empowerment, reinvesting in their communities and concern for the well-being of people and the world in which we live, cooperatives nurture a long-term vision for sustainable economic growth, social development and environmental responsibility. Co

operatives innovate to meet the needs of their members, and may offer new products or services—ahead of competing businesses—because members ask for it.

And how big a role thus education plays in educating members and keeping them in a continuous learning mode and thereby helping them to change their mindsets?
One of the cooperative principles is: Education, Training, and Information. Cooperatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so that they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperatives. They inform the general public, particularly young people and opinion leaders, about the nature and benefits of cooperation.

So education is fundamental to the cooperative movement, not only to ensure the success of existing cooperatives with an informed membership and professional management, but also for future leaders of cooperative businesses. By educating emerging leaders about the advantages of the cooperative approach and how to run successful cooperatives, we make sure that future generations are able to empower themselves in their businesses and in their communities.

What is your BIG WHY or driving motivation to be as passionate as you are to put so much time in promoting cooperativism in Curaçao?
People helping people. Cooperatives are the best business model on earth to do this with. Primarily as they are a force for tremendous social, economic and environmental impact the world over! Cooperatives are a perfect model to enable community members to self-organize and work towards common objectives. And secondly, cooperatives are enterprises based on ethics, values and principles that put the needs and aspirations of their members above the simple goal of maximizing profit. 

As Fekoskan is a Federation and as I have understood that ACU is one of the largest cooperatives in the Dutch Kingdom, is cooperativism as a way to align and collaborate on the rise here in Curaçao and what is happening in the Caribbean is it shrinking?
The number of members of financial cooperatives in Curaçao is still increasing. By the end of 2018 more than 35,000 people were member of a financial cooperative. That’s a member-to-employed population-ratio of more than 58%. You can say that cooperatives play an important role in the Caribbean. Cooperatives are one of the most important types of indigenous-owned businesses in the Caribbean. In countries like Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago, cooperatives are prominent among the formally registered home-grown businesses. There have been failures but also many successes. Whereas cooperatives can be found operating in different sectors of the economy, e.g. retailing, crop and livestock farming, agro-processing, fisheries, artisanal trades, arts and crafts, the most dominant type is the financial cooperative, in particular the credit unions (also known as the savings and credit cooperatives in other parts of the world).

What skills and knowledge do members need to have to participate in a cooperative and is education a pre-requisite to become and stay a member?
People in cooperatives come from every walk of life. Skills and knowledge are not prerequisites. The desire to serve and empower other people is more relevant, while adhering to the cooperative values and principles is more relevant. But cooperatives have to provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers and employees, so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperative. There should be a continuing effort to cultivate appropriate cooperative values.

What are the challenges that you are dealing as cooperative federation? And how are you dealing with the different challenges you confront?
One of the main challenges of cooperatives today is how to build and/ or retain their competitive advantages without giving up their ideological roots and their involvement with the development of activity and employment and establish their relevance in the changing global business environment. To be effective and successful, a cooperative federation must continuously achieve different interrelated goals:
a) strengthen the autonomy of its affiliates but maintaining social networks, enhance viability and improve ability to serve its members,
b) explore new ways of understanding and managing cooperatives,
c) help cultivate the required conditions to remain an innovative, economically viable and competitive enterprise.

How are you trying also to keep up with your personal skills? Do you like reading books, follow courses, invest in networks and people that might help you further your knowledge and skills level?
Yes, I enjoy reading, searching on the Internet and following (online) courses. As a matter of fact, I recently obtained a certification in the strategic management of cooperatives field.

What are your (other) strengths?
I think I have a big picture perspective and a focus on practical ideas. I like to solve problems, envision opportunities, and recognize patterns.

Do you have hobbies or interests that you are also passionate about?
My hobbies are fishing and farming. You know, I also love watching science fiction movies and series. Like Netflix’ “Agents of Shield” as a prelude for things to come. How technology is being mingeld with bio-sciences, it triggers in me what the future might bring. But I am positive in the sense that in the end all these developments will bring humanity to function on a higher level.

If you would meet a stranger in the bus (let say in Holland or the US) and they would ask you to introduce yourself, what would you answer?
Hi, I’m Eldrid from Curaçao. Would you like me to tell you more about Curaçao?

How would you describe Eldrid in one word or one sentence?
Down-to-Earth and committed.

Whom are the persons that have inspired you the most in your career?
My wife. She is a great woman. And you know, I have to say, that standing right next to every great man there is a great woman.

Where they always positive role models or where there also negative role models that you didn’t want to identify with?
I was inspired by different persons in my life, like the first manager I had when I started my career in the corporate world, the operations director of SAP Herman Lelieveld. He was a man with lots of experience who was always focusing on how much more we as human beings can achieve, compared to what we were accomplishing till that moment.

My teacher of Physics at MIL was challenging me as he saw that I wasn’t too serious in doing my homework and paying attention in the classroom, always telling me that I had value and I could do better. His interventions, put me back on the right track as I was at MIL.

I always try to identify with positive people so in that sense, Nelson Mandela is still one of my favorites.

What are some challenges, lessons learned, that you have encountered in your life when you ultimately discovered your talents and strengths?
I would like to summarize it like this, “It’s better to give than to receive” and “Never expect anything from anyone”.

Where do you want to be 10 to 15 years from now with your career?
I visualize and work on my goals. I have doing this during my whole life. When I was a child and wanted to learn to ride a bike, I imagine me doing this in my mind’s eye and then did it. I would like to be a regional cooperative leader. So I am on my way to become a regional relevant factor.

What would you want your Loved Ones, family, friends and others to say about you let’s say 20 years years from now?
He is still doing it the cooperative way.

What makes you stay optimistic about the future of Curaçao?

We are resilient and strong people, as we have experienced so many things in the past. I believe that “When the going gets tough, the tough get going, no matter the challenges.” We have the power to fight back, the one has it more than the other. I also believe that cooperativism can play a significant role in this as an instrument to elevate ourselves, helping us to overcome the challenges as an instrument to create prosperity. The former prime minister of Singapore Lee-Kwan YEW in that sense showed us, how having a vision and leadership have led Singapore to overcome its challenges. Curaçao people are tough, in the sense of resilient, strong. We will overcome whatever challenges we are confronted with.

What I am saying is that we as a representative of cooperativism, in Curaçao we need to do our home work and take the lead based on one vision. Not only for the over 35.000 members at this moment, but also towards other stakeholders like policymakers. We have to share information and explain how cooperativism can help to deal with our present challenges. In the ILO recommendations number 193-2002, the ILO has identified areas where governments could work on to create more solid frameworks, like laws and incentives, for cooperativism to develop itself. A more sound development of cooperativism in the coming 20 years ahead of us will enable mindset changes that would promote more economic, cultural, social and financial development in these countries. The future is highly uncertain, change is inevitable and nothing is certain. But cooperativism can be helpful. Up to now the political interest in cooperativism has been fragmented and not sufficiently focused.

I truly believe that cooperativism, although not a magic formula, as a socio-economic system, can help lots of people come far. If we could introduce this concept in our educational system, our youth would come so much further in their lives, as it is a people centered approach and it is about people helping other people. And in the end it is all about people in this world, and this world is changing fast. So it is ultimately people that will help other people to adjust and change, leaving no one behind so that all can prosper socially, emotionally, culturally, economically and financially.

I like the concept of Share2Uplift btw, whereby connecting 250 influencers in all walks of life in Curaçao and aligning efforts, we can enable Curaçao to change and transform. Just like a drop of water that disburses itself. It makes me reflect twenty some years ago, this was a marketing strategy used by SAP in those days.
For more info on cooperativism on Curaçao:

One of the 250 Community Influencers
As the core group of Share2Uplift we love and deeply respect Eldrid Fos, for the work he is doing as general manager of Fekoskan and its subsidiary The Curaçao Cooperative Academy Foundation since January 2018, underwriting the importance he and Fekoskan are giving now to education. We love his ambition to make “cooperativism” play a much bigger role in our society and in the Caribbean region. We love the 7 principles cooperativism stands for, as it has lots of alignment with Share2Uplift’s school of thought. We definitely consider him one of the 250 ethical leaders of our Island, that continuously works at influencing people’s mindsets for the better, in our society.

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