Kayleigh Walsh is a worker co-op member at Outlandish, comprised of around 20 collaborators and co-owners who build digital applications. She is also involved in CoTech, co-founded by Outlandish, which is a network of 28 co-ops that sell technology services. It aims to create a better technology sector in the UK that focuses primarily on the worker, customer and end-user needs, rather than on generating private profit. Kayleigh is also a member of the Co-operatives UK Worker Co-op Council, which shapes strategic priorities for worker co-ops, and acts as a sounding board on important issues.
Why are you involved with co-ops?
I found out about Outlandish through an ex-colleague. They were on the lookout for a new person, and she thought I would be a good fit. When I started in February 2016, it was all new to me. It was my first introduction to co-ops. I had no idea about the benefits and principles, but I hit the ground running and just learned as I went along. It was a fresh new way of working for me. When I joined Outlandish, it was just transitioning to a co-operative. Previously it was an LLP (Limited Liability Partnership). It was always employee-owned but not officially a co-operative. I helped with a lot of the bureaucracy and tasks that we needed to do to change.
Digital businesses are innovative in many ways, does Outlandish feel different?
I think we are different because we are making a difference in the world. We invest all our surpluses into projects that help us achieve our goals. For a lot of companies that is not their aim, they are more about exploiting workers and making a profit. But we are trying to make the world a better place using technology. We can make a positive contribution, and we decide where to spend our surplus. For example, we worked with NEU the education union and paid ourselves £10,000 to build a data tool to understand government formulas for education spending which meant you could look up schools in London and see what the funding formula meant in terms of cuts. This made a huge impact and difference, so we decided to make it a commercial product and took it nationwide.
Outlandish is also a co-founder of Co-Tech, the coalition of technology co-ops. What impact is this making?
It is having a lot of impact in the co-op sector. One of the reasons we started CoTech was out of solidarity. We knew some co-ops did not have enough work and they needed support, so it was about sharing our skills and collaboration. We meet nationally once a year and have regional meet-ups. We recently won a project with UNICEF – washdata.org – in partnership with Agile, another co-op. The programme gathers data on global hygiene and sanitation from almost every country in the world, and the accompanying analysis is used by UN agencies, NGOs, donors, journalists and academics in their decision making. We approached that project as an experiment and one of the reasons we got it was because we are part of the CoTech network.
You’re also on Co-operatives UK’s Worker Co-operative Council – what are you hoping to achieve as a member of the council?
One of my main aims is to lighten the bureaucracy there is around starting worker co-ops. There is not enough information out there, and a lot of it is not accessible enough. Although co-operatives are growing in numbers, we are still not there in general terms of raising awareness. Many people do not know what co-ops are even though they may be operating as a co-op and following co-operative principles.
What does a typical day look like for you?
It’s quite varied. I do lots of different things. I am a project manager and also deal with finances and community work, so it depends on the day. We are based in Finsbury Park in London, but there is a fair amount of travelling in what I do. Last month I went to Naples to speak about CoTech and how technology can serve social co-operatives. I am invited to a fair amount of events to speak, and some days I also work from home, so overall it is all quite flexible. Our governance structure is to have ‘circles’ which are equivalent to traditional departments, so I am part of the finance and project management circle and the community business development circle
You are wearing a lot of hats across the co-op sector – what are you most proud of so far?
I am most proud of delivering high-quality projects to our clients like the one we did on school cuts with NEU. There is also the fact we do a lot of work on business delivery and showing people that technology is viable and that It doesn’t have to be about the top ranking people getting all the profits.
What challenges are you facing?
Some people are still a bit wary of technology so getting people to engage is often always a challenge. But I think once people realise that co-ops are delivering high-quality products and proving that we are capable of producing on the same level as commercial agencies that will make a real difference.
How can co-ops use technology to aid collaboration?
Every co-op could do with a bit more technology, and it is our job to show how it can make life easier using online tools like Loomio to keep communication going, aid transparency and share ideas in an open forum.
What do you think the future holds for co-ops and technology?
I hope that on a national basis CoTech can provide co-ops in the UK with their digital needs and help anyone who needs it. It is a network they can speak to and there also organisations like the Co-operative Group where we want to start talking to more and generally, I would like to see more co-operation across the movement. If we don’t do that, we may be in a little bit of trouble.
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