Our Readers' Opinions
March 11, 2016
Remembering our cooperative heritage and Thomas Saunders

by Maxwell Haywood

Legacy of Saunders

Thomas M Saunders has left us a significant legacy regarding the cooperative movement in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG). He documented his experiences in a booklet called “Reflections on the Beginning of the Cooperative Movement in St Vincent and the Grenadines,” published in 1994. Soon after writing an article myself last year on the vital cooperative heritage in SVG, I got a copy of the book from one of Saunders’ children, the Honourable Justice Adrian Saunders of the Caribbean Court of Justice. In this article, I will share some of the important information from this book.{{more}}

Thomas Saunders possessed extensive experience and knowledge of the evolution of cooperatives in SVG. He travelled the Caribbean and Europe to study the cooperative enterprise model. He used this vast knowledge and experience to build the cooperative movement in SVG. Today, we are much better off as a society because of the pioneering work of Thomas M Saunders in the field of cooperatives.

First set of cooperatives

Saunders account of cooperatives in SVG shows us that credit unions were first established in the second half of the 20th century in SVG. Examples include: the first credit union, made up of employees of the Civil Service, the Kingstown Cooperative Credit Union, registered in 1958; the St George’s Credit Union, registered in 1958; the Layou Progressive Cooperative Credit Union, organized in 1958; the Barrouallie Credit Union, formed around 1958; the Troumaca Credit Union, organized in 1958; the Belair Credit Union, organized in 1959; the South Rivers Credit Union, registered in 1963; and the Government Employees Cooperative Credit Union, registered around 1964.

There were several cooperatives formed in the fishing sector: the Barrouallie Cooperative Fishermen’s Society Ltd, organized in 1956; the Bequia Fishermen’s Cooperative Society, started in June 1959; the Canouan Fishermen’s Cooperative Society, started in March 1960; and the Union Island Fishermen’s Cooperative Society Ltd, started in March 1960.

Other early cooperatives include: Consumer Cooperative Society; the Arnos Vale Progressive Cooperative Organization Limited of 1983; the Cooperative Society in Troumaca; the Cooper-ative Society in Rose Hall; and the Biabou Marketing Cooperative Society, formed in 1958.

An apex or national umbrella cooperative organization was established under the name of the Credit Union League in 1962 and made up of credit unions from Layou, Barrouallie, Kinsgtown, St Georges, Arnos Vale and Carriere.

These early cooperatives benefited from the work of men and women such as: Fred Phillips, William Wyllie, Herman Glasgow, Julian Baynes, James Ferdinand, Everad Horne, Jerome Burke, Gideon Providence, HB Dasilva, Griffith Arrindell, Ercelle Cummings, CW Iton, Beryl Baptiste, Vibert De Shong, and others.

Challenges and lessons learned

Saunders draws our attention to the fact that these early cooperatives and leaders did not have it easy. They faced major challenges. Some of the earliest cooperatives that started soon succumbed to class bias and the lack of education of members on the “idea of cooperatives”. Commenting on the failure of one cooperative, Saunders said, “The members were all quite new to the idea of cooperatives and did not fully understand what it was all about.” Other challenges included: death of cooperative leaders, relaxation of rules, members unable to pay back loans and goods on credit, absence of cooperative legislation, poor management, excessive sentimentality; lack of effective systems for collecting members’ money and ensuring it was deposited in the cooperative accounts; money borrowed for one purpose was used for other purposes, which was against the rules of the cooperative; migration of some of the cooperative leaders and members; international decisions; and general carelessness of members of cooperatives. These challenges teach us about the difficulties that can be overcome in order to have strong cooperatives.

Focus of cooperatives

The major focus of these cooperatives covered several areas. They aimed to address the economic problems of their members. Some were organized for agricultural, fishing and housing purposes. Others assisted members to access necessities such as goods and property. Some focussed on helping young people to understand and practice thrift or the careful and wise use of money. In general, they fostered self-reliance and independence of their members.

Role of government

Saunders mentioned two pieces of cooperative legislation by government. The Cooperative Legislation Act of 1954 was passed, but according to Saunders even though it called for a Registrar of Cooperative Societies, no department for cooperatives was established. The Cooperatives Societies Act No.11 was established in 1963. This act actually created the Registrar of Cooperative Societies.

The Registrar of Cooperative Societies assisted cooperatives to run efficient and effective businesses. Saunders mentions the role of this office in helping the Barrouallie Cooperative Fishermen’s Society Ltd in the 1950s, and the Bequia Fishermen’s Cooperative Society in 1959. The first Registrar of Cooperative Societies was brought in from Jamaica, by the name of Vivian P. Smart, who arrived in SVG in June 1958. When he left in 1963, Saunders was appointed Registrar of Cooperative Societies.


Saunders noted that to build the cooperative enterprise model, it is important to build cooperatives activities in schools. Also, in order to achieve cooperative sustainability, it is vital to conduct constant training of members and leaders in the idea and operations of cooperatives.

It is urgent that cooperatives play a more vibrant role in SVG to address some of the current problems facing the society. Globally, cooperatives have been demonstrating their power to address critical socio-economic and governance issues. In SVG, cooperatives must be deployed to address youth unemployment and unemployment in general; and they should be applied in addressing poverty, social exclusion, and financial exclusion.