Four of us were chatting about ways to connect co-operatives. Like many at the International Co-operative Alliance’s Global Conference, it was very international.
There was Nonhle Memela from the Department of Trade and Industry in South Africa, Steven Lynch of bankmecu in Australia and Erin Hancock of the Canadian Co-operative Association (CCA). Oh, and me, from the UK. Four people; four continents.
Though co-operative businesses often trade in different sectors, they have shared areas where they can learn from one another – areas like membership, engagement, marketing, finance and governance.
Together, we created a list of ways to connect co-operatives that I’d like to share with you, most based on existing experiences, although a couple are ideas that the co-operative sector might like to look at further.
1. A co-operative breakfast. Every other month, co-operatives in Melbourne come together for a business breakfast, to network and hear from specialists on key areas of interest.
2. Meet-ups. More widely, regular local meet-ups for informal networking and peer to peer learning is a growing way of linking up local businesses. This could support trading and shared learning amongst co-operatives.
3. Incubation centres. On a larger level, some municipalities in South African run incubation centres as a space for co-operatives contracted by the municipality to meet, attend training sessions and learn about co-operative running a successful business.
4. Training sessions. The CCA runs regular training sessions for between 25 and 60 professionals in particular functions such as membership, governance and leadership.
5. Networks. Virtual networks provide an easy way to link people together, through a website, online discussion, occasional teleconferences and sometimes webinars. See, for example, the CCA Research Network.
6. #coopchat. This doesn’t exist yet. But on Twitter people with shared interest agree a time and talk to one another about a given topic. For example, #commschat and #breadchat. Timezones will need to be considered, but what about a fortnightly, international #coopschat?
7. Sector media. In the UK, the Co-operative News provides a link between co-operatives, giving them news, analysis and business insight. The website provides an international news and analysis for co-operatives, but perhaps sector media could be extended further in countries where there is no sector media yet.
8. Social media. And social media is a key way for peers to network. The use of the hashtag #coops on Twitter is an important part of this, as is sharing and talking on Facebook and other leading networks.
This is, of course, just the start. There are sure to be so many other ways to connect co-operatives and enable them to learn, share and talk.