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‘My work has its challenges’

Last update - Thursday, October 22, 2009, 04:31 By Catherine Reilly

Catherine Reilly speaks to Golden Anikwe of Co-Operative Support Services - a man in the business of assisting others’ businesses

GOLDEN ANIKWE is an unusual type of businessman – unusual in that accumulating personal wealth has never been his ambition.
His business, Co-Operative Support Services (CSS), is a not-for-profit enterprise to help budding entrepreneurs help themselves.
It began operating in 2007 through funding from Social Entrepreneurs Ireland, and provides development advice for ethnic businesspeople establishing cooperatives within local communities.
A co-operative is essentially a coming together of people through a jointly owned enterprise. Usually the individuals involved wouldn’t have had the capital to set up on their own – so they pool their resources.
Anikwe has a lifelong background in the area, having extensively studied the business model at the Federal Cooperative College of Enugu State, Nigeria, thereafter pursuing further studies in finance and working in the co-operative support field. At present, he’s completing a Master’s degree in Co-operative and Social Enterprise at University College Cork.
Some immigrants have difficulties “penetrating the labour market” and so opt for self-employment, explains Anikwe, but many have limited savings or credit histories. His business has thus far assisted – through training support – in the establishment of six immigrant-run cooperatives. One involves four Congolese mechanics in Cork.
“The Congolese men were mechanics in their home country and specialise in different areas, so are well placed to provide different services to clients. They had the skills but not the necessary finance, and where were they expected to get the money for equipment?” wonders Anikwe.
CSS itself doesn’t provide finance, although works in collaboration with the Ulster Community Investment Trust (UCIT). It chiefly assists with business plans, training on running a co-operative, and how to approach financial organisations for support.
Anikwe believes the Government should be playing a much bigger role in the area, and together with Trinity College’s Business Administration class of 2009 submitted a paper to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment “outlining the need to set up a co-operative finance agency so that this body can be providing the necessary type of capital for ethnic co-operatives”.
He emphasises that he isn’t calling for subsidies, but for capital that will be repaid, and also clarifies that CSS is open to assisting Irish-led cooperatives too. CSS charges for its services, although Anikwe indicates that it’s a nominal amount.
Between his Master’s degree and his business, Anikwe hasn’t much spare time – but really enjoys calling the shots.
“It has its challenges,” he admits. “There are obviously advantages – you’re putting all the effort in, and if the outcome turns out good, you will reap the benefit; and if anything goes wrong, then you have a case to answer. But that motivates you into stronger action so that everything works out fine.”
The father-of-four, who came to Ireland in May 1997, has also firmly put down roots here – adorning his first-born with a very traditional name, Siobhán.
“I love the name,” he says. “I came to know the meaning – that it has to do with God. It was an acknowledgment of the friendliness I’d enjoyed from Irish people.”

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