Community Shares Unit
In the last five years, the community shares market has grown significantly with over 200 community enterprises raising nearly £40m from over 40,000 members. However as the market grows, communities want to be able to invest and participate online, reflecting the wider influence of digital media.
Equally, community enterprises want to be able to engage with their memberships in valuable and efficient ways to boost inclusion and participation, and reduce administration. No natural platform currently exists which is constraining enterprises ability to raise much-needed investment and subsequently involve their communities in their operations.
The Community Shares Unit, a partnership project between Co-operatives UK and Locality, has been working in this area by operating Microgenius – a dedicated web platform for community shares, allowing supporters to buy shares in community-based projects easily and safely. For communities, it is a website they can use to run their share offer securely and painlessly, without the paperwork.
After launching the pilot in June 2013, Microgenius has supported ten enterprises raise over £1.5m of community shares investment from over 2,500 members – from community energy to pubs, jazz clubs and even a pier! In 2014 we have already had ten applications to use the platform, buoyed by growth in the wider market.
We are now seeking to build on this and develop a bespoke platform which integrates and builds on the key learning Co-operatives UK has gained from Microgenius and also the One Click digital governance platform. This will offer a direct route for supporters to become members, investors and participants and allow enterprises themselves to manage their member and share registers.
This developed online co-operative finance and governance system will be integrated to enable societies and members to use the platform for on-going activities such as managing their member register, conducting general meetings, board elections and resolutions. The development work will also introduce additional functionality not currently available but in which user feedback has highlighted a need, in particular managing interest payments and share accounts, along with financial and community benefit reporting to members.
The CSU has some limited funding and support to move forward with this aim but we need the wider movement to offer its support, resources and expertise to help in this endeavour.