What makes Kiwi co-ops tick?

In 2014, the United Nations named New Zealand as the world’s most co-operative economy in a survey covering 145 countries. Now, a team from The University of Auckland...

In 2014, the United Nations named New Zealand as the world’s most co-operative economy in a survey covering 145 countries.

Now, a team from The University of Auckland Business School and Erasmus University’s Rotterdam School of Management is undertaking a series of case studies and a major survey of co-operative businesses to understand how co-ops contribute to the country’s economy.

Dr Frank Siedlok and Dr Lisa Callagher, based in Auckland, believe it is time to find out how the 149 Kiwi co-ops tick, what they are doing to improve their competitiveness – and what lessons can be learned to help all co-ops to do better.

“Several high profile (NZ) co-operatives, such as Zespri (kiwi fruit) and Foodstuffs (groceries), show that through strategies focused on added-value products or services, innovation and knowledge-sharing, they can successfully compete against large private sector organisations and multinationals,” said Dr Siedlok.

“Yet, there are many misconceptions about just how innovative and entrepreneurial they are. We want to better understand the mechanisms that can make co-ops more competitive.”

He added that as well as representing a significant part of New Zealand’s economy, co-operatives are considered to be more resilient to economic recession.

The researchers are now interested in taking the survey internationally and are looking for partners / researchers to link to.

The survey, which is funded by the IceHouse/University of Auckland Business School Research Fund, will provide a comprehensive picture of how contemporary co-operatives, as member-owned and controlled organisations, operate to provide purchasing, marketing and distribution, and other support to their members, and the ways they improve theirs and their members’ competitiveness. The results will be shared with co-operative businesses and used to inform both policy and university curricula.

Dr Callagher points out that “current research is preoccupied with the structural aspects of co-ops, and fails to provide systematic research of the factors contributing to innovation and entrepreneurship. We want to move beyond structural explanations and show how co-ops are a viable business model that can work very well”.

These views are shared by Ian Macintosh, chief executive of Cooperative Business New Zealand, which represents Kiwi co-operatives and mutuals, and provides support to the survey.

Mr Macintosh says every day one in four New Zealanders deal with a co-op.

“They are a bigger part of our life than we realise and we need to make society more aware of their role.”

For more information, visit www.co-opinnovation.auckland.ac.nz.

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