Co-operatives must become innovation leaders

Economic crises and new technologies are changing the world. The new economic model that has emerged over the last decade is based on sharing, collaboration, innovation, and exchange....

By Alexandra Bobic, Head of Communications at EURICSE

Economic crises and new technologies are changing the world. The new economic model that has emerged over the last decade is based on sharing, collaboration, innovation, and exchange. These are all well-known features of the co-operative economy, yet co-operatives don’t seem to be able to make the most of this advantage. Does the co-operative movement have the power to guide social innovation processes as well as innovation in governance, services, products, ideas? 

Have co-operatives ever been leaders in innovation and if so, when? Are there any lessons from the past that can be useful today?

These some of the questions that our speakers tryed to answer at ICA's Global Conference in Cape Town with the help of some very interesting and rather eloquent participants like Linda Shaw, Co-operative College (UK), Steven Lynch, National Community Banking Manager (Australia), Giles Simon, Co-operative News (UK) and Felix Weth, Fairnopoly (Germany).

And it was Felix and his digital co-operative startup (https://www.fairnopoly.de/) that speakers had in mind when opening the session saying that co-operatives are rearly the business model that the digital start-ups choose when creating an enterprise even though the mission and the goals are often very compatible.

Introducing the session, Gianluca Salvatori asked why the co-operative model is not the part of this system.

Bruno Roelands added that co-ops have the tools and material as well as the other components needed, but not the system. Instead of leading the process they are in the defence and behind it.

“At micro level, co-operatives have all the elements. Their members and multistakeholedrship system is providing  creativity and the way to implement innovation. Co-operatives are listening to the needs of their members, but also to the needs of the society and that is the best way to introduce the innovation. Pity this innovation isn’t systemic”, said Mr Roelands.

According to Simel  Esim of the International Labour Organization, social entrepreneurship and innovation go together perfectly. The co-operatives their way of innovating calls the need which is far away from open access, sharing economy or creative commons…

Ed Mayo reminded of Rochdale Pioneers and how probably now there would be just one entrepreneur. He pointed that the question was whether the collective model of leadership could be compatible to the new cultural wave. 

Roelands argued that co-operatives have to develop in order to balance individual and collective contribution to the decision making process. If individuals can contribute innovative ideas, it is the collective who has to back these ideas, argued Mr Roelands.

During the discussion several very interesting ideas emerged:

– to create a network of support for young co-operatives

– to include innovation as a subject within the Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade

– to invent and adopt a new, co-operative way of producing and sharing intellectual goods

– to create an open co-op model which could be attractive for digital entrepreneurs

The participants suggested that this theme could be one of the subjects of the forthcoming Summit in Quebec in 2014.

 
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