During the recent ICMIF Biennial Conference Peter Hunt, CEO of Mutuo, raised the issue of how mutuals and cooperatives lobby and influence regulators and policymakers in their countries. Mutuo works to promote all types of mutuals and cooperatives in the UK and aims to influence government, provide thought leadership to the sector and help to develop new mutuals and cooperatives to expand and grow the sector.
When Mutuo was first set up a number of bodies within the mutual, cooperative and friendly societies were all trying to lobby government at the same time and their activities were disparate and lacked coordination. Demutualization was commonplace and the public had lost touch with what mutuals are and their purpose. Over the last ten years Mutuo has worked to develop coordinated strategies to promote the sector as a whole. As Peter says, “Size really matters when you are trying to influence government. If a government sees a sector as small and declining they will be less interested than if they see it as growing and dynamic and relevant to their work.”
Peter went on to say the mutuals need to provide governments and policymakers with solutions to problems rather than simply presenting a “shopping list” of demands. Peter recognized that the mutual sector in the UK and in many countries is relatively small and therefore can find it difficult to get into the broader debates but it is not impossible, “this is all about mainstreaming what we’ve got to say; mutuals have a very strong story and we have to make sure they are part of that broader debate.”
In 2010 there was general election in the UK and Mutuo ran a project to develop a Mutuals Manifesto and developed a policy plan which was presented to all main political parties. This policy plan was adopted by the main parties and now the UK coalition government has a specific commitment to promoting diversity and to promote the mutuals within the UK. This was therefore a huge step forward for the mutual sector but, as Peter says, there’s definitely more work to be done.
Interest in what Mutuo are doing is spreading across other countries and Peter pointed out that the International Year of Cooperatives in 2012 is a huge worldwide opportunity for the sector. He recommended that mutuals and cooperatives need to look at what others are doing and to replicate what works and reminded delegates that the IYC is a real opportunity to get the mutual sector further up the agenda with national governments. As Peter says, “attitudes are definitely changing within government and the media; especially when you consider the recent figures which prove that the mutual sector is growing when other sectors are flat-lining. This gives you a really powerful message.”