Millions of people worldwide are members of mutually owned enterprises that have the capacity to positively change their lives. There are countless co-ops of many diverse types, working on behalf of their members; and playing an important role within their respective national economies. Together, the members control their own enterprises, which are known by such names as ‘cooperatives’, ‘credit unions’, ‘mutuals’, ‘building societies’, ‘friendly societies’, ‘community enterprises’, as well as many other different types self-help enterprise.
A family of enterprises
All of enterprises mentioned above belong to a family of organization that are sometimes described as ‘cooperative and mutual enterprises’. Their most important distinguishing feature is that they are all rooted in the concept of ‘self-help and mutual action’. Collectively, I would normally refer to them as ‘self-help enterprises’ or S.H.E.s for short. However, to keep it plain, on this website, I shall refer to all these different types of enterprises as ’co-ops’.
The following webpages first clarify the purpose and function of co-ops, and then set out what it takes to run viable, effective and sustainable enterprises. Including, how to make them operate in the best interest of their members. My aim is to outline the human systems required to make co-ops work as they should. Also, to describe the tools needed by those who aspire to lead, manage or guide them.
Co-ops exist to serve their members
Co-ops need a distinctive system of organization because they are a form of enterprise that exists to serve their members, their families and their communities; and help them build a better future. Co-ops work for people with widely differing needs; for example, marketing produce, supplying farming inputs, getting healthy food at fair prices, accessing financial services such as credit and savings, insurance and mortgages, providing decent housing, health, and care services, maintaining shops, pubs, and transport in their local area, or by managing their workplaces.
What co-op leaders need to know
Successful co-ops need leaders that fully understand the true nature of the form of enterprise they aspire to run. This means that they must be aware of how organizations work in practice, the human systems required to make them function as they should and appreciate the role that co-op’s have in getting a better deal for their members within specific markets. This will involve familiarising themselves with the cooperative enterprise model.
Crucially, they need to realise that if they hire managers that have no understanding of the cooperative model of enterprise, then such managers will simply revert to the systems they know, which inevitably results in their co-op becoming no better than any commercial business. In the following webpages I seek to outline precisely what co-op leaders need to know if they are to run genuine co-ops.
Why now, more than ever, the world needs genuine co-ops?
Whenever the crisis caused by coronavirus recedes, the governments of many nations will be deep in debt and the ability of the state to directly intervene in markets and to provide support to their citizens could be much impaired. At the same time, the economic system will need to adapt if it is to respond to the threats presented by climate change.
Genuine co-ops can have a significant role to play in helping ordinary people cope with the new reality. This because they use a different economic system that includes the mutual ownership of resources and are driven by resource optimisation, which is the alternative to the profit maximization that drives commercial businesses. In the new reality we will need enterprises that promote fairness, while helping people to move forward and break down the barriers that inhibit mutual action. When people work together in co-ops, they generate a cumulative strength that allows them to engage in problem-solving and in activities that are beyond the power of any individual.