As part of Stir To Action’s New Economy workshop programme in London this month, Kate Whittle is running a one-day workshop on multi-stakeholder co-ops. Kate is involved with GO-OP Co-operative whose constitution is based on the Somerset Rules model, which was developed by Alex Lawrie at Somerset Co-op Services. Here she talks about why the multi-stakeholder model is such a good fit for co-ops – and why it works.
When most people talk about ownership, it’s usually split between private or state ownership. Public ownership is often assumed to mean state ownership. So with our railways failing under private ownership, the predictable response is calls for re-nationalisation. But could there be an alternative? And could political figures associated with the post-war consensus be rethinking the future of ownership?
Instead of single stakeholder organisations — such as worker or consumer co-ops — the multi-stakeholder model extends ownership to different members. So in a publicly-owned railway, who would the members be? The obvious stakeholders are the passengers and the staff, but there would also be a role for investors, and others, for example trade union representatives.
By being more inclusive, more people have a direct interest in the success of the enterprise, and can be represented on the board of the co-operative. Ed Mayo, secretary general of Co-operatives UK, has argued that this model suits enterprises within the Transition movement “where the single-constituency member models don’t seem quite to fit”.
Another area where the multi-stakeholder co-operative model might be of interest is Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). The aim of the CSA is to share the risk between growers and consumers, to help growers and horticulturalists survive the risks and challenges of growing food. So the CSA will have different groups of stakeholders with different short-term interests but a shared long-term interest. The multi-stakeholder model presents an ideal structure to ensure the interests of both groups are clear and taken into account.
Where large amounts of capital need to be raised in order to get the co-operative business off the ground, the multi-stakeholder model is ideal. The co-operative will have two types of members – users and non-users – with the non-users providing the capital and receiving a modest return on their funds as well as the satisfaction of knowing that they are supporting a member-owned and democratically controlled, sustainable enterprise. Control of the co-operative is always in the hands of the users, however.
- To find out more about the model, join Kate on 8 October to explore some examples of multi-stakeholder co-ops and take part in a practical exercise thinking about the design of a multi-stakeholder co-op. For more information, visit www.stirtoaction.com/workshops/multi-stakeholder-co-ops.
In this article
- Alex Lawrie
- Business models
- Consumers' co-operative
- Corporate finance
- Ed Mayo
- GO-OP Co-operative
- Kate Whittle
- Project management
- The Co-operative brand
- The Co-operative Group
- United Kingdom