The First President’s Blog

We are well used to firsts in the Robert Owen Group and occupying that lonely position out in front where you think you have read the future and...

We are well used to firsts in the Robert Owen Group and occupying that lonely position out in front where you think you have read the future and then you suddenly find that actually the challenge in life is shaping your own sense of reality and then making it happen. Well the Robert Owen Group’s President’s Blog is a first and we hope that it will come to be seen as a welcome addition to our website and the service we seek to offer to our members, our fellow co-operators and our friends. We welcome contributions to the Blog so please feel free to email at [email protected] – all contributions are most welcome.

The Robert Owen Group was first formed from small beginnings by the Herefordshire high school head teachers and college principals in January 1993. The Hereford & Worcester TVEI Project was drawing to a close and our early pioneers believed that they could see the future for education and training provision in rural areas and firmly believed that working in co-operation was the route to survival. Here in 2010 the challenges are certainly no less and ironically the co-operative solution seems to have a much wider acceptance although I do wonder if our new enthusiasts really appreciate what a co-operative really is.

 The UK co-operative statistics are certainly encouraging and Co-operatives UK tell us that their analysis shows that there are over 4,990 independent co-operatives in the UK owned by more than 12.9 million members. Apparently the numbers keep on growing where these organisations are owned by their members to meet the common needs. In all parts of our economy from healthcare to housing, farms to football clubs, credit unions to convenience stores, schools to community groups, they share membership, have equal say, make democratic decisions and create value for members.

So what should characterise a co-operative? Well for a start they:
  • Must be owned by members
  • Must exist to serve their members – whether they are the customers, the employees or the local community
  • Must ensure that members have an equal say in what the co-operative does – membership must help shape the decisions their co-operative makes
  • Must share their profits among members.

As fundamental as these four key characteristics are it goes much deeper than this for new co-operatives must recognise the rich history that the co-operative sector has of driving change for the benefit of all. From the eight hour working day in 1901 to the minimum wage in 1907 to the early plans for the National Health Service in 1929 the list of progressive changes are endless. So whilst we recognise that the spectrum for co-operation is wide, it is the re-engagement of our people with these four fundamental principles set in the context of the Movement’s history which we believe offers the greatest opportunity to re-generate both our society and our economy.

There is little doubt that we live in a world full of challenges – both local and global. In the UK we are fearful for the future of public service delivery and the impact of the now regularly trailed cuts on our vulnerable brothers and sisters. It is clearly difficult for community members to understand if our political leaders are referring to cuts arising from policies of the last New Labour Administration or cuts that will fall out from the Coalition Government’s October spending review. Sometimes the more cynical say that this confusion is deliberate so that the worst when it comes is perhaps not quite as bad as we were told. Who knows but clearly by Christmas we will know the worst and we will be fighting to preserve schools, community services and a sense of future for our young people.

Back to trying to shape our sense of co-operative reality and making it happen. Well we can say with certainty that:

  • Co-operation is good for business and can help to avoid the 80% failure rate of businesses to grow and create value
  • Co-operation is good for individuals as it reduces the human tendency to interpret others as threatening
  • Co-operation is good for society as it encourages us to engage with others in a way that we can meet our own needs and theirs.

In the Robert Owen Group we believe with a passion that we can deliver our mission to work with communities to contribute to a more responsible, equitable and informed society if we work within co-operative structures whilst following co-operative values and principles. Without doubt the going will be tough and it is my view that we face a decade of hard work to preserve our communities and the livelihoods of our people. Within all of this schools have a key role to play as community hubs where the education of immature human beings is but a part. In undertaking this new role it is important that teachers, parents and governing bodies see themselves as agents of change.

As public services come under pressure from growing demand and diminished resourcing the co-operative approach offers the “Third Way” but not in any exclusive sense but working in partnership with local authorities and other community groups to keep the needs of our people to the forefront of our thinking. Out of chaos may appear sensible changes to the way we work with each other. For me the alternative doesn’t bear thinking about but it will depend on us all seeing ourselves as active agents for co-operative change rather than passive recipients of doom, gloom and a diminishing quality of life .

“Co-operation is as vital an ingredient in economic development as ‘survival of the fittest’ individualism” – Eric Beinhocker, The Origin of Wealth, 2006.

Chris Morgan
President of the Robert Owen Group

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