There has been much excitement within the co-operative sector – or rather the lefty-Labour parts – with the rise of Jeremy Corbyn.
He talks the co-operative language with support for solutions in housing, transport, energy and the wider economy. But, he does need to be prime minister to enact all these ideas.
One area that co-operators should be excited about, though, is the thirst for democratic involvement. Turnout for the leadership election was high at 76%, but what matters is that over 100,000 new people registered with the Labour party to vote. Over 420,000 people voted. And more have joined since, ready to play their part in making change happen.
When looking at the Co-operative Group, its AGM this year had over 90,000 members voting on issues.
So it stands to reason that there are more people out there, ready to join the co-operative cause. It’s an important part to vote for the ideal candidates, but giving people more direct power and a chance to make change happen in this quick and impatient world will win hearts.
It can be seen as a marketing initiative to get more people in stores and more members engaging with us. As co-operatives together, we have more interaction with the general public than any other ‘campaigning-type’ organisation.
This month, the Co-operative Group is allowing a thousand community groups across Scotland to take a slice of its carrier bag levy, with members then invited to vote for their favourites – a great step towards member engagement.
In future years, the Group should be aiming to gather intelligence from its members on the issues that matter to them.
Such information can inform future consultations on dispersing funds, especially those focused on relevant issues. It’s easier to find existing groups that can help solve the issues of today. But there should be an aspiration to encourage others to form co-operatives to solve problems in the community themselves. Especially if finance is available.
It would be a strong eco-system to create a number of new co-operatives off the back of initiatives, such as the Group’s Local Fund. Who knows, some co-operatives may be so successful that it gives the Co-operative Group some market intelligence to set up a similar service.
Community giving is a strong part of the co-operative ethos that will always exist. But combining this idea with a promise to help grow the spread and impact of co-operatives is good for all.
Democracy is powerful. We just have to figure out how members want to be a part of our future.