President of Vanuatu Skul Tuketa Kooperative on bringing cheaper supplies to Vanuatu schools, local production and the future of cooperatives
Stephane Yawiko, President of Vanuatu Skul Tuketa Kooperative, in this exclusive interview for Vila Times talks about bringing Vanuatu schools together, encouraging local production of goods, benefits of cooperatives and helping Vanuatu to reach the next stage of development.
‘Our goal is to provide schools with supplies for better prices’
– Tell me a little bit about Vanuatu Skul Tuketa Cooperative.
The initiative is coming from schools. The cooperative has been registered since March 2, 2017. Our main objective is to provide the members of the cooperative with a better network to access school supplies and any goods that schools are purchasing on a regular basis, like food, computers, furniture, building materials etc. The goal is to propose a better price, usually a price directly from the factory.
– I see. So who are the members of the cooperative at the moment?
School directors and the Chairmen of school councils. We do not accept private companies or individuals to be a member of the cooperative, you have to be a part of the school. In the Board of Directors of Vanuatu Skul Tuketa Cooperative we have advisers from the Ministry of Education and from different departments. The President of Vanuatu Skul Tuketa Cooperative is the General Director of the Community of Catholic Schools, the Vice President, Hnalo Matham, is the Director of Protestant education authority. Now we have more than 120 schools in the Cooperative.
– So these are schools not just in Efate but all around Vanuatu?
Yes, all around the islands.
‘If we can provide schools more supplies and better equipment their students will have more chances to succeed and help the country in the future’
– What are the long term plans of the Cooperative?
The main objective of the Cooperative is to assist schools and the Government. We want to help schools in management of their budgets. For example we have found out that schools annual budgets are mainly spent in our local commercial shops. And prices in the local commercial shops are very high. We understand that they have to make profits, but this is not good for our schools, it has a bad impact on the management of the budget, as well as on students.
So the main objective of the Cooperative is to provide schools with the cheapest possible supplies, so they could afford buying more, allowing students to have better access to those supplies.
Another objective of the Cooperative is to improve the facilities in schools. To provide the furniture needed, computers – so that each student had access to a computer instead of only ten computers available for 300 students.
In the photo: Gleden Elisah, Minister of Education, Joseph Timatua, Acting General secretary TSC, Ridley Joseph, Director General of the Cooperative office, Stephane Yawiko, President of Vanuatu School Tuketa Cooperative, Manses Kalo, Principal of Fresh Wota School, and Tomsen Kawai, Second PA MOE
‘This is a big challenge and problem – most schools do not have access to supplies they need’
So our general goal is to improve the success of students in the schools. If we can provide them more supplies, better equipment, than they will have more chances to succeed and help the country to develop in future.
Because today this is a big challenge and problem – the fact that most schools do not have access to supplies they need. So us offering a much better price is the solution. For example after the latest survey we found out that many children do not have books at home. They get them in the beginning of the year, but they do not have books at home because teachers tell them to keep their books in the school not to loose them. So maybe if we could propose books for a very interesting price they could give students more than one book. And parents will be able to come and buy some books for their children.
‘The profit we are going to make will not be higher than 8%’
– The Cooperative is a non-profitable organisation, right?
The profit we are going to make will not be higher than 8% because we need money to maintain the office, pay our staff and for other expenses – electricity, storage etc. 8% on top of the factory price, not more than 8%.
We work like this: a school places an order, when the amount ordered reaches a full container, we order a container, the school comes and gets the order.
‘We want to have the power to control the consumption of schools’
– How your supply chain works? Are those basically the same supplies that local stores are selling, or you order goods from different locations?
We are always looking for the best supplier. And we are trying to order only a full container of each item, to secure the best price. Most of the goods we are buying overseas in Asia. For example, we have just imported a container of rice from Vietnam, Calrose Rice. We are selling this rice for 90 vatu per kilo. Local supermarkets are selling the same rice for 160 vatu. So you can see the difference. Freshwater School, for example, is going to take 10 tonnes of this rice from the container delivered. They have more than 200 students so they need a lot of rice.
Another important role of the Cooperative is to control the consumption of schools. That is the power that we want to take. To tell all the schools in the cooperative to buy some particular product.
‘Today in Vanuatu we do not have local production, everything is imported. We will indirectly start to encourage local production’
And we are going to encourage the local production. Today in Vanuatu we do not have local production, everything is imported. Even those things that could be made here are imported. But we believe that with the partnership with National Cooperative Office we can change that, and start some local production. For example we can create a factory producing biscuits or other simple food products. We would be able to do that with influence that we have – with 400-500 schools that we are targeting to get in the cooperative. Then all these schools will be buying biscuits from this factory. That’s how we will indirectly start to encourage local production.
At first we have to get all the schools to come together. Once they are together, and start to listen to our Board, than the Board will find what we can possibly produce in Vanuatu, and will encourage consumption here.
‘Once these our plans are implemented it will help Vanuatu to go to another stage of development’
– So local production is the next stage, right? When you will get to that?
We plan to start within the next two years. For the local food we will encourage farmers, the Government, the Ministry of Agriculture to recruit farmers to produce products that will be supplied to schools. We will teach schools to listen to our advises to direct the consumption.
Now we are working on our influence and are hoping to start with the production of local products in two years time.
Another of our ideas is to establish a market trade within the cooperative. In rural areas parents do not have much money. But they have local products – they have crops, they have kava, they have pigs. So now together with the Department of Cooperatives we are also planning to put some scheme in place allowing them to sell us their crops while we will buy these goods from them and either use for local production or export.
And we believe that once these our plans are implemented it will help Vanuatu to go to another stage of development. Because now we have no local production. Nothing. Even clothes and food is imported, and it is very expensive. So local production is another important agenda, apart from the success of students.
‘Now we are getting close to have 200 schools in the Cooperative, almost 20,000 students in total’
– How many students are in Vanuatu schools, in total?
Around 65,000 students. About 420 schools. Now we are getting close to have 200 schools in the Cooperative, almost 20,000 students in total. Yesterday people from the Department of Cooperatives have told us they are preparing modules to propose to the Ministry of Education so that the cooperatives could be proposed in schools for children to learn – what is a cooperative, what is the benefit. So they would learn in young age what is a cooperative.
‘We are looking to work with the Reserve Bank or with a commercial bank’
– So the schools are providing funds for the Cooperative?
Now the Cooperative is looking for funds. We are looking to work with the Reserve Bank or with a commercial bank. The problem with commercial banks is they are taking more than 10% interest. It is too much for us. The Reserve Bank can provide financing with 5% interest.
‘The Cooperative needs cash to pay for shipments in front’
– You are talking about loans, right?
Not really long term loans. When the Cooperative needs cash to pay for a shipment in front. The Cooperative doesn’t need any loans.
What the Cooperative really wants is to provide maximum benefit to schools. We are offering them the lowest prices, allowing schools also to make some small profit by selling these goods to students and their parents with some extra margin. So the school would be able to make some profit to add it to the budget. It supposed to assist the schools because nowadays sometime they have to wait for grants from the government for very long, and if there is a delay they don’t have money in the budget.
‘Big challenge now is to move a little bit the mentality of the schools’
– What kind of challenges the Cooperative is facing currently?
The big challenge now is to move a little bit the mentality of the schools.
The members of the Cooperative need to place their orders before receiving the goods, and to pay a deposit. Because all factories are asking for small deposits to be able to send the goods. And after the container is delivered we have to pay the rest of the amount. Right now of course when a school needs several kilos of rice or ten pens it is easier for them to go the local store than to place an order with the Cooperative, because then they will have to wait for 40 days to get the delivery. But our prices are more then 50%, often 80% cheaper compared to the local market price. So they are loosing the benefit we are offering.
We are encouraging them to implement this system, telling them not not wait until they are out of all supplies to place the new order. They need to do it ahead of time and to pay a deposit, being confident that the shipment will be delivered. When all the schools will get used to this system everything should be alright.
This is the main challenge for the Cooperative and its members – to explain this to the schools.