Advances in technology, increased globalization and the risk of systemic shocks such as the COVID-19 have changed ideas about how best to do business, and the concept of a business ecosystem has been adapted to help businesses understand how to thrive in this rapidly changing environment. There are greater emphasis and interest on the sustainability of the cooperative business model and on women and youth who (except for women in informal groups) have hitherto played a peripheral role in cooperative activities. The 2020 CUK Annual Conference, therefore, seeks to gather researchers, policymakers, practitioners and consumers to deliberate cooperatives within this changing ecosystem. The conference will deliberate on inclusion, climate change, special purpose cooperatives, and the enabling factors. Issues of sustainable competition, cooperation and collaboration will be discussed with a specific focus on how cooperatives co-evolve, and jointly adapt to external disruptions. 

The theme of the conference

The conference themed “Co-operatives in a Changing Ecosystem” will have four sub-themes, namely, (1) (Re)membering; (2) Climate Change & Cooperatives; (3) Special Purpose Cooperatives, (4) Enablers of cooperatives for sustainable development.

The first of the sub-themes will provide participants an opportunity to delve into the question of inclusion. It will focus on women, youth and persons with disabilities (PWDs) who are significantly excluded from membership and meaningful participation in cooperatives. The picture is no different with the youth and PWDs, thus the call for ‘(Re)membering the rest. Additionally, the concept of (individual or household, associate, nominal, corporate) membership in cooperatives will be discussed. 

The second subtheme will focus on the place of cooperatives as vehicles for climate change mitigation and climate change adaptation for community resilience. How are cooperatives as non-party supporting actions to reduce emissions or building resilience of communities to Climate Change; food security in the face of climate change; sustainable agriculture and what are the experiences. Thus, the question of what measures the cooperatives are taking to address and respond to climate change; what interventions are being or need to be undertaken to prompt cooperatives to scale up their efforts and support actions to mitigate against climate change; and how cooperatives are contributing to the strengthening of knowledge, technologies, practices and efforts of communities in addressing and responding to climate change are important. It is expected that papers in this second sub-theme will address these issues.

The third sub-theme will allow participants to discuss the role of special purpose co-operatives in sustainable community livelihoods and poverty reduction, and the potential contribution of special-purpose co-operative to the achievement of Kenya’s Big 4 Agenda with special emphasis on housing and universal health care, and avenues for enhancing quality employment in the cultural sector. Areas to be explored, among others, include:  Sustainable funding and viability models; diffusion of technology and innovation; community empowerment; capacity constraints to quality of resource management; and, challenges and opportunities of special-purpose cooperatives.

Under the fourth sub-theme participants will centre on the enablers of cooperatives in sustainable development: how businesses should be re-aligning their strategies, practices, and operations so as to unlock investments and innovation in support of the government agenda of promoting activities that will promote sustainable development,  overcome global problems such as extreme poverty, scarce natural resource exploitation and climate change.  Papers will explore whether businesses are paying attention to activities along the value chain, developing innovative business models, reducing corporate risk, increasing opportunities that arise from sustainable development issues and engaging special efforts to transform the capital to create value for themselves and for others. Some special topics under discussion include sustainable entrepreneurship and coopreneurship; the role of blended finance in addressing developmental challenges; the role of cooperatives in the manufacturing sector; innovation and incubation and technology in business.

Conference Objectives

The general objective of the 2020 conference is to examine cooperatives from an ecosystem perspective, the opportunities, challenges and risks portended by a rapidly evolving globalized business world.  The 2020 Conference will therefore gather researchers, practitioners, industry players, policymakers from National and County Governments, and students to exchange and share knowledge and experience in the areas identified in the sub-themes. Specifically, the conference has the following objectives:


  • To discuss the concept of membership in cooperatives and explore measures for inclusion of all sections of our society 
  • To interrogate the role cooperatives should play in addressing issues of climate change sustainably  
  • To discuss the key role played by special-purpose cooperatives in addressing SDGs with a special focus of the Big 4 Agenda 
  • To explore the need for re-alignment of businesses for sustainable development 

Expected Outcomes

The following are the expected key outputs from the conference:


  • Linkages and networking among stakeholders in the cooperative ecosystem locally and internationally leading to actionable 
  • Interventions and re-alignments needed for the Big 4 agenda
  • Conference Proceedings including a summary of learnings from engagements with speakers;
  • Further deepening of The Co-operative University of Kenya as a Center of Excellence in Innovation, Research and Training in the area of co-operatives.