Year in Review 2023/2024

By Cooperative Business New Zealand | May 2024
It’s Cooperative Business NZ’s financial year end which is a great opportunity to provide a round-up of our past year’s activity! Here’s a wrap-up from our new CEO Saya Wahrlich.

Year in Review Introduction
I am privileged to have been appointed by the Board to lead Cooperative Business NZ, the peak industry body for co-operatives and member-owned businesses that together represent >18% of our country’s GDP. I am incredibly grateful for the warm welcome I have received from members, and to Roz Henry, the outgoing CEO for spending such a generous amount of time with me handing over the reins. 

I have joined in what is another extremely challenging year for New Zealand businesses – with growing regulatory pressures, a change in government and a tightening economy. As I continue to travel and meet with members, these growing pressures are the leading topic of conversation, and make the coming year an important one for Cooperative Business NZ to support you.  

I thank the Board for supporting me as the incoming CEO and for their advocacy on behalf of members. They do this voluntarily and are hugely giving of their time. Mike Brown (Chair), Greg Gent, Professor Nicola Shadbolt, Matthew Washington, Garry Diack and Simon Tucker, your ongoing commitment and deep knowledge of the cooperative model has enabled us to make great strides this past year.  

Particular thanks go to our Corporate Associate Members who donate time and expertise and provide exceptional service for our members. Without their support, we could not deliver the wide range of initiatives on behalf of our members. Thank you again to Anderson Lloyd, Brannigans, Buddle Findlay, Business Mentors NZ, Centrix, Cyclone, Deloitte, KPMG, Integrity Solutions, Lifeline, Mayfield, Mystery Creek, PwC, Silvereye, Syndex and Trust Alliance. 

Support for the cooperative model
We continue to actively contribute to the global cooperative community.  

Last year the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA), the global apex for the co-operative and mutual movement, held a worldwide consultation on Cooperative Identity. With an estimated 1 billion members and 3 million co-op businesses worldwide, how co-ops deliver on their purpose is driven by the underlying principles and values that guide them. Over 60 participants across Australia and New Zealand joined an online seminar hosted by Cooperative Business NZ and the Business Council of Cooperatives and Mutuals (BCCM) to discuss the Cooperative Identity consultation. A report summarising the collective ANZ perspectives from the online seminar was submitted to the ICA in April. 

The 2023 World Co-op Monitor released in January by the ICA recognised five of New Zealand’s co-ops as being in the top 300 globally including; Fonterra, Zespri, Foodstuffs North Island, Foodstuffs South Island and Silver Fern Farms. 

Locally, our annual members’ survey was conducted in February. Members were clear about the most critical issues they are facing as cooperatives. The top five issues were governance; succession planning; sourcing and retaining skilled staff; compliance with existing regulations and compliance with upcoming regulations.  

In support of addressing these issues we have focused on delivering high quality governance training in partnership with Mayfield. Over the past 12 months 50 cooperative directors or team members have been through the Mayfield 1-day, Advanced Governance 2-day or 6-month governance training workshops.  

We appointed new Corporate Associate Members Brannigans and Integrity Solutions to partner with us to help address succession planning and staffing challenges and are in discussions with other organisations to help us further close these gaps. 

We’ve also created additional resources for startups – a constitution template and startup video resource – to add to the growing library of assets available to support emerging cooperatives. 

Lobbying and advocacy
Our major workstream this year was our briefing paper for incoming Ministers. This briefing was created in consultation with the Cooperative Business NZ board and member representatives spanning different sectors and was followed up with requests to meet a number of Ministers. The paper covered issues including the regulatory environment not being fit for purpose for most cooperatives; the need for greater understanding of the model by government and decision makers; more assistance being needed to establish cooperatives and mutuals and overly restrictive lending rules by institutions impeding for example the establishment of housing cooperatives in New Zealand.  

In addition we made a submission to the Companies (Address Information) Amendment Bill advocating privacy by right for directors.  

We recognise the importance of greater awareness of the cooperative and mutual business model in our tertiary sector. To kick off a workstream in this space we set up an Education Subcommittee. The subcommittee held an initial meeting with the heads of the University Business Schools where they discussed how they might incorporate content into their undergraduate and post graduate programmes. We presented at the University of Canterbury Centre for Entrepreneurship and explored opportunities for further collaboration.    

Our two flagship events, the Business Awards held in Christchurch in October and the Leaders’ Forum held in Auckland this month received high praise from attendees. The Business Awards recognise excellence in cooperatives and member owned businesses and among the awardees were four Lifetime Achievement Awards. The Awards evening also provided us with an opportunity to celebrate the longevity and resilience of the co-operative and mutual models with five member organisations reaching the milestones of 25, 50, 75 or 100 years operation as a co-operative or mutual. Reaching these milestones is testament to the longevity and sustainability of the cooperative model. Enormous thanks go to our independent judging panel of Alastair Hercus, Jeffrey Stangl, Phil McKendry and Chris Black. 

Leaders’ Forum feedback was overwhelmingly positive about the quality of the keynote addresses and relevance of topics covered by the two panels, with attendees also valuing the time spent speaking to peers.  

“The speakers came from wide ranging industries and the more inspiring speakers like Glen from NASA took me out of my thought zone to think much wider than just my business.”

“I appreciated the calibre of speakers and value of networking with attendees with similar challenges, plus access to the speakers themselves.”

We also facilitated a financial service, banking and insurance workshop hosted by subject matter experts from Deloitte. The workshop covered the Deposit Takers Act – Deposit Compensation Scheme; Open Banking; Financed Emissions and Conduct of Financial Institutions legislation. 

We appreciate how challenging it can be to take time away from your business and thank everyone that attended these events. 

As we look ahead to the United Nations International Year of Cooperatives 2025, I look forward to working alongside and on behalf of our members and partners, raising awareness and lobbying government and stakeholders on issues important to you and to all cooperatives, mutuals and member-owned businesses. You will see more opportunities to learn and come together through regional networking, education and inspiration events spanning common issues or sector specific topics and a growing library of online resources to support you, your team, and your members. 

On behalf of the Cooperative Business NZ team and board, thank you for a fantastic year. 


Nga mihi / In co-operation, 

Saya Wahrlich
CEO, Cooperative Business NZ 

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