The Phone Co-op launches Foundation for Co-operative Innovation

Vivian Woodell is stepping down as chief executive of the Phone Co-op to lead the development of the organisation's new Foundation for Co-operative Innovation

The Phone Co-op has announced the launch of a new initiative designed to “help drive the development of a more vibrant co-operative economy”.

The Foundation for Co-operative Innovation aims to become a focal point for the wider co-op movement, complementing and supporting Co-operatives UK’s National Co-operative Development Strategy.

It will be led by Vivian Woodell, who has stepped down as the Phone Co-op’s chief executive in order to lead the development of the initiative.

“At the Phone Co-op, we set out to demonstrate that a co-operative business can be successful because of its values and because it does business differently from its competitors in the private sector,” said Mr Woodell.

“Our success proves this is possible. My colleagues are an excellent team with great strengths and strong co-operative commitment.

“It has been a privilege to work with them all. I know that the Phone Co-op will continue to flourish in the future, building on those same principles and I am meanwhile delighted to be leading the launch of the Foundation, which I believe will be able to make a real difference, supporting new co-operative solutions.”

The idea for the Foundation evolved out of a series of other thoughts, said Mr Woodell, who will be working on the form and structure of the new enterprise over the next few months. The aim, he added, is for it to be a vehicle for a means to an end, not an end in itself.

“A number of times I’ve sat with co-operators and people have said ‘wouldn’t it be great if a co-operative did X, Y or Z’ – but it doesn’t happen because you need someone to grab the idea by the scruff of the neck. If there’s one difference the foundation can make it will be to galvanise that.”

The Phone Co-op, which was founded in 1998 has put a lot of resources into its Co-operative & Social Economy Development Fund to support the growth and development of other co-ops and social enterprises around the country. It has been particularly active in the green energy and student housing sectors.

“The Foundation will take this to the next level,” said Mr Woodell. “I’m looking forward to tackling some interesting challenges in terms of strategic co-operative development.”

The Foundation aims to be up and running by the end of the year. It will be a separate organisation to the Phone Co-op, but will remain close, and there will be some form of representation from the Phone Co-op in the governance – although the final form has yet to be decided.

The Phone Co-op’s board has announced that Peter Murley, a member who has significant telecoms experience, will act as the interim chief executive.

Robert Denbeigh, chair of the Phone Co-op, said: “The Phone Co-op is a huge success story. Its achievement in securing 19 years of profitable growth is something of which we are all very proud. No other consumer co-operative launched in the UK in the last 50 years has achieved this.

“The Phone Co-op has won many awards and is widely recognised in the co-operative movement, nationally and internationally as an example of a successful, innovative co-operative business.

“The board expresses heartfelt thanks to Vivian for his vision in starting The Phone Co-op and for his work in getting The Phone Co-op to where it is now. We know he will bring the same energy and imagination to his new role.”

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