Responding to COVID-19

By Cooperative Business New Zealand | April 2020
Cooperative Business CEO Roz Henry discusses our response to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.


2020 has been an awakening. Watching what is happening around the world gives us an appreciation of how fragile we are to powers beyond our control. COVID-19 has seen an intense period of change, individuals and businesses have had to rapidly adapt to new ways of working. Priorities have changed; for nations, businesses and individuals, as each of us attempts to comprehend the impact.

The Government is working at a speed never seen before, where decisions are being made without all the data at hand. But they are showing a real willingness to make the hard calls earlier than many other nations, put in place packages to ease the impacts and extend the potential for businesses to ride out this period.

For such a small nation, New Zealand plays a significant role in driving change and we are often at the forefront for other countries. I think our Government has done a great job given the circumstances.

At Cooperative Business New Zealand, we have been:

  • Actively lobbying on behalf of our members to ensure that you were identified as Essential Businesses
  • Assisting members on a case-by-case basis to enable accessing specific needs, such as PPE
  • Providing regular commentary to our members on how to access the various Government subsidies
  • Acting as a conduit to the Government on key issues and opportunities to be part of the economy rebuild, i.e. infrastructure applications
  • Engaging with our senior leaders to provide thought leadership on how to navigate this period.

We are moving to offer a number of our services via virtual forums (meetings, education and training offerings, etc) to enable continuing to provide our services.

However, going forward what does this all mean? We have a Government will little business expertise. They are going to have to make reforms to enable businesses to fast-track regeneration. Do we have the right skills around the table to make these decisions? The areas that I’ve been privy to experiencing first-hand indicates to me that there is a desire to work with the private sector to come up with joint solutions on a way forward. There is a desire to focus on keeping SMEs afloat with the various solutions, not just enabling the larger corporates to keep standing. We need to be part of these conversations and invited to the table. Cooperative Business New Zealand is looking to be part of these discussions, and I know many of you are already doing so through your own channels.

So what does this all mean for the co-operative community? Does it completely change our priorities, the way we behave? As I ponder these questions, I think it makes it more apparent that our organisation’s fundamental principles will allow for the majority of us to still be here on the other side:

  • The virus has been largely indiscriminate in its victims, no matter your socioeconomic group, race, political persuasion or gender. It puts everyone on a level playing field. We know that the principle of open and voluntary membership is key to co-operatives. Now is the time to open our arms.
  • Co-operations among co-operatives – the offer to assist other co-operatives to continue to succeed through these challenging times. We saw this with Foodstuffs and Mitre 10 offering assistance to SBS Bank to acquire PPEs to enable opening their doors to customers.
  • Concern for the community – it is heart-warming to see so many of you putting on special activities to bring the community together, Mitre 10’s #LetterboxMakeover competition being just one. The support shown by many of you over this period to be interviewed, to share your insights, to offer advice and introductions to one another to assist has been inspiring.

It’s times like this that remind me that Cooperative Business New Zealand stands among you as a co-operative. We too are navigating the system; applying for wage subsidies, reviewing our cash flow and where we can cut costs, moving to remote working as well as navigating new technology, i.e. virtual meetings. We are here to assist you during this time to have a voice and be heard at the table. Whether it be Government, policymakers or assisting with work to enable regenerating the economy.

With this in mind, 2020 is a new decade where we go in with eyes wide open. Now more so than ever before, the time for collaboration and cooperation (which are so fundamental to who you are); in business, culture and mindset, stands you in great stead! I look forward to working with you on what lies ahead.

So what does this mean for Cooperative Business New Zealand? I have written to our members to advise you of our current status given the cancellation of our two marquee events. The Cooperative Business New Zealand Board and I took a hard look at our strategy when I first joined the business in late 2019. We determined that a business reset was required to ensure the services available to our members met your needs.

Given COVID-19, the priorities haven’t changed. However, the timing, approach and channels for delivery will need to be refined.

We are still looking to provide you with the following opportunities to gain knowledge, network with your peers, engage in industry-specific initiatives and much more. Key highlights for the year ahead:

  • Governance and Leadership – multiple opportunities to attend various webinars on how to govern/lead during these challenging times. We are continuing to work with the IOD and Mayfield Group on how to support developing future directors.
  • Think Tanks – sector-specific working groups to consider key issues and identify solutions to make a change, i.e. Financial Services now talking to CoFR regarding compliance.
  • Members’ Panel – Wendy Hammond (Foodstuffs North Island), Matt Bolger (Fonterra), Stefan Azzopardi (Southern Cross) are continuing to represent our members to provide a cross-sector view on our members’ needs.  
  • Research on the New Zealand Co-operative Economy – we are updating our research to enable supporting discussions, regulatory change, and education on the sector. We are applying for AGMART funding in the next month to get this underway.  
  • Co-operative Conference (July 2020 – Virtual) – a new event to enable peer-to-peer engagement across our members’ senior leadership teams. This will focus on addressing key issues and solutions. We are working through if we are able to offer this as a virtual conference in conjunction with our Corporate Associate Members. Timing may vary.
  • AGM – is likely to be hosted via Zoom in July.
  • Business Awards – we will seek members’ feedback on whether to defer these awards until next year.
  • Leaders’ Forum (likely now May 2020). – be prepared to hear from thought leaders, share in developing solutions on key issues and network with your peers. For our members’ directors and executive teams.
  • Infrastructure – we are transitioning across to a SaaS platform to enable better support for our members. MemberConnex has kindly sponsored us with this initiative. Having a CRM that links through to our website, newsletter, event management and payment system; will ensure a greater customer experience and improve our member services.

We are here to assist you to navigate COVID-19. It has been a baptism by fire getting up to speed, and building relationships with our members, other association bodies, Government Ministers and regulators.

Even with these challenges, it has made me keenly aware of how passionate I am about your businesses and ensuring their success. These challenges will be huge and often seem insurmountable, however, I look forward to facing them with you and moving forward.

Kia kaha.

In co-operation,

Roz Henry

Chief Executive

Want to read more?

You may also be interested in