Interview: Mr Balasubramanian (Balu) G. Iyer, new Regional Director for the Alliance’s Asia Pacific region

21 Mar 2014

The International Co-operative Alliance has appointed Balu G. Iyer as the new Regional Director for its Asia Pacific office. Mr Iyer has extensive experience in international development and will continue the Alliance’s work in the Asia-Pacific region, promoting and supporting co-operatives to achieve the 2020 vision set forward in the Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade.

Mr Iyer, could you tell us about your background and how you came to be involved in the co-operative movement?

After completing studies in engineering and having worked for a couple of years, I went to do my MBA from the Institute of Rural Management (IRMA) in Anand. I chose IRMA because it was founded on the belief that the key to effective rural development lies in professional management and trained managers, which were as much needed in co-operatives and non-government organisations as in the corporate sector.

During my time at IRMA, I was able to learn about the workings of co-operatives and learned to know milk, tobacco, and water co-operatives. After graduation, I joined the Aga Khan Rural Support Program India (AKRSPI) and worked with lift irrigation and canal management co-operatives. This was one of the most rewarding phases of my career – seeing the community came together, decide on management of the co-operative, take sound decisions on water usage and price, and the difference water made in improving their lives.  

Moving on, I have worked with international development organisations such as ActionAid India, The International Development Exchange and The Asia Foundation in India and the U.S.  My work with all these organisations has focused on Asia and involved interacting with governments, non-government organisations and co-operatives.  In my work, I have carried with me some of the basic principles I learned from my co-operative experience: giving individual voice, collective action, democratic ownership, leadership, concern for women, and plough resources back into the community.

What is your view of the current situation of co-operatives in the region?

The Asia-Pacific region is one of the most economically dynamic regions and is expected to drive the world economy in the coming years. However, the growth is not uniform geographically and many people are unable to share in the prosperity.

The primary economic paradigm places the market at the center and individual interest above all.

There is urgent need to construct closer relationships in the region to further the co-operative movement. The recent uprisings in the Middle East and other places have shown the dissatisfaction among youth with current economic situation and their search for alternatives; co-operatives have an opportunity to show this path.

What changes would you like to see?

The Alliance has been doing strong pioneering work to advance the co-operative movement in the region, working with governments to put in place enabling laws and policy, safeguards and to build the awareness and capacity of members.

I will build on this work and provide members with efficient and value added services, be it to enhance business or to expand markets. Improving quality and frequency of communication using social media is another area I would like to focus. I would also like to explore the use of technology to further the region’s mandate.

What are your plans for the movement in Asia – Pacific and what are the key objectives of the Alliance’s Asia Pacific Region for the coming years?

The ‘ICA Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade,’ lays out an ambitious 2020 vision for the co-operative form of business to become the acknowledged leader in economic, social and environmental sustainability. The Asia Pacific region works from the Blueprint for its 2013-2016 strategic framework.  In addition to continuing to provide technical assistance to members and organise exchanges, some of the possible initiatives will include development of co-operative trade through internet platforms; enhance know-how in the areas of ‘resource recycling’ and ‘renewable energy’ businesses; institutionalise the ‘co-operative social audit’ with a view to promote and protect Co-operative Identity. We will also promote cultural exchange between youth co-operators.

Mr Iyer will be replacing Dr. Chan Ho Choi, who has been the Regional Director of the Alliance’s Asia Pacific office since 2010.

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