Editorial: Getting the recognition your co-op deserves

Recognition is a word that I’m sure many of us believe co-operatives are starved of. Businesses are normally recognised through awards ceremonies – but with an affinity for...

Recognition is a word that I’m sure many of us believe co-operatives are starved of.

Businesses are normally recognised through awards ceremonies – but with an affinity for democracy and being fair to everyone, is the awards circuit a natural fit for co-operatives?

To be in with a chance of winning, you have to be like the rest. The business has to fit in a narrow category, when by their very nature co-operatives like to be different and don’t necessarily fit the ‘standard business mould’.

Responsibility and sustainability is one area that co-operatives do exceptionally well in at awards – as the principles indicate they should; huge congratulations to the Southern Co-operative, which has been shortlisted for a Responsible Business Award, and Midcounties, which has been re-accredited.

The Southern Co-operative's Bereavement Centre counsellors, nominated for a Responsible Business award
The Southern Co-operative’s Bereavement Centre counsellors, nominated for a Responsible Business award

Entering some types of awards might be seen as ‘selling-out’, but there is a need to educate the world about the co-operative model, and winning awards – and the media attention they garner, aid that. Co-ops should not be shy to seek attention and recognition for the good they do.

While fitting the mould is not in our nature, we know as businesses that we need some similarity to our competitors. But as co-operatives we can do better. We can look at tired, shareholder-owned companies and easily improve on what they do with some co-op pizazz.

Some of what we do – for example having a charity of the year – is done by most other companies too. The difference with co-ops is the importance of showing a real impact on stakeholders’ lives – having concern for community (principle 7).

The Co-operative Group is doing this through its pledge to tackle loneliness with the British Red Cross. Last year, members and employees voted to choose the winning charity. Already a third of its £3.3m target has been raised.

In an ideal world, members would have had the chance to vote on charities to go on the shortlist. But, this is more suited to smaller co-operatives and not suitable for a national co-op that needs local charity links with as many trading areas as possible.

Is this way of connecting with communities the secret sauce to show how different we are from competitors and get recognition for being different?

Writing in the Guardian, chief executive Richard Pennycook said society has been more focused on individuals rather than communities. “More ‘me’ less ‘co-operative’,” he says.

And this, I think, is a hint of what is to come in future from the Group. The Co-operative, which has a presence in thousands of communities, sees itself as, not just a business, but a community service.sauc

By taking on issues such as loneliness, the Group can connect individually in communities. This was successfully portrayed in its Christmas advertising campaign that encouraged kindness to strangers. Did this have a positive effect on food sales that have been increasing?

Is this way of connecting with communities the secret sauce to show how different we are from competitors and get recognition for being different?

In Richard Pennycook’s words, co-operatives can work in communities to spot the need and “develop services” to help people. On the loneliness campaign, he sees the Group as an extension of “health and social care providers”. He says: “We can co-operate to eradicate isolation.”

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