Recent events and initiatives in the media, governmental and educational spheres have highlighted a growing trend of co-operation without co-operatives i.e. people coming together to achieve something they couldn’t indivdually.
Touted as one of the fastest growing companies in history, Groupon is a online discount merchant that secures deals with local businesses to enable consumers to bulk purchase goods and services. Groupon has revolutionised how local communities purchase goods and services on a daily basis.
Ed Davey, the consumer minister, has recently announced the government’s intention to release data on consumers, companies and prices online to “encourage collective purchasing, and increase support for vulnerable customers.”
Moodle is a learning managament system/virtual learning environment/course management system; whatever it’s called, it has a co-operative pedagogy at its core. Moodle is used to deliver courses online and is based on social constructionism theory. In essence, this theory believes that people learn best by working in groups and teaching each other in a social setting.
What do these examples highlight and what is their relevance to co-operatives?
Well it is clear from each initiative that co-operation is and will be a key feature in the success of each initiative. We can clearly see that the government is keen for people to have (as close to as possible) perfect information, a key concept in economics, to empower consumers to solve their own energy, telecoms and food issues. A quick look at the government’s ‘community partners‘, the people who will assist in the delivery of this initiative, one doesn’t find any mention of co-operatives. Consumers coming together to improve their lives through collective and bulk purchasing of goods and services: if it looks like a co-op, feels like a co-op….
We might be biased but surely the issue here is education. Why do people use Groupon to secure bulk orders if they can just as easily and more profitably achieve the same outcome through a co-operative enterprise? Why would Moodle adopt a social constructionist pedagogy if the concept of co-operative learning already exists? And why would the government seek to empower vulnerable consumers to collectively purchase key services through any other form of enterpise but a co-operative, especially in light of their Big Society agenda?
Each of the three examples discussed here are successful, idealogically sound and important initiatives. However, one cannot help but feel that each initiative has reinvented the wheel so to speak. Rather than look at these examples as missed opportunities, the co-operative movement should realise the fountain of co-operation unfolding before our eyes and both support and nurture it to achieve so much more through the structure of a co-operative enterprise.