From creating a social economy, to fair pay and education, this fortnight we are highlighting the philanthropic nature of co-operatives – or rather, what co-operatives should aspire to be. It all revolves around having a sole purpose of serving communities.
The idea for a ‘single purpose’ was discussed by former Co-operative Group chief executive Euan Sutherland last year at countless events, and now staff at the Group’s Angel Square HQ are refining what this sole purpose could be. This purpose will be launched at the May annual meeting, but it has been hinted that it’s very likely to focus on the Group being a community business.
In theory, the co-operative ecosystem is simple: support your community, and your community will support you. But as some of our commentators from community-focused organisations say in this issue, a social business must understand its community and be truly embedded there for this to work.
This all links in with the Myners Review into governance. How can the Co-operative Group make meaningful connections with its members within its communities? Lord Myners’ plans to abolish area committees lessens this link, but will the seduction of greater one member, one vote power make members feel more empowered?
Last week, regional boards met to discuss the Myners proposals. Many appear to be resisting change, presumably not because they want to retain power, but because they prefer consultation and negotiation rather than being handed a slideshow of how future governance structures will look.
The need for change has been recognised but, as highlighted by two of the movement’s leaders, members need to have control in a co-operative.
Not all members want to be elected. There are many ways to engage and involve them in the democracy of a co-operative – and this is explored in our special section on membership and education.
Looking at case studies, best practice and advice from around the movement, this series of features will form part of a new Membership and Campaigns Hub on our website – a network for practitioners and a space for people to learn, share and talk.
One of the key things that co-operatives should enshrine in their thoughts, though, whether it’s choosing a membership engagement programme or restructuring its governance, is the co-operative difference. How are we different from our competitors?
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Elaine Dean, chair, Co-operative Press
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