05 October 2010

Event Report: Society for co-operative studies

Last weekend we had our quarterly worker co-operative council meeting which took place at the Society for Co-operatives Study Conference. This blog is a brief summary and my thoughts on the conference aswell.

Apart from welcoming our newest member to the council Alison Banton of Dulas (full list of members here) The main items on the agenda were:

Our involvement in a European wide campaign to promote worker co-operatives as a sustainable form of employment www.sustainableemployment.eu. On an EU level with the size and strength of the Spanish, French and Italian movements we actually have quite a strong voice to influence policy (which of course filters back down to the UK). We've sent some case studies, pictures and other media.  If you want to add your worker co-operative, do a testimonial or get involved please get in touch with me.

Nominations for the President of CECOP, we have not put forward a UK candidate (our multi-lingual skills frankly aren't good enough) and have therefore nominated/seconded a Swedish representative.

The two representatives to the main Board of Co-operatives UK; Bob Cannell and Sion Whellen's gave feedback on previous meetings.  Members of the Council discussed a variety of membership and strategic issues to help inform future decisions of the Board including: Co-operatives Fortnight, Congress, membership recruitment, member services and risks affecting the movement. For members interested in goings on at the main Board you can read their Board Updates here.

Our meeting lasted about 2 hours after which we took part in the Society for Co-operatives Studies conference.

Highlights from Society for Co-operatives Studies Conference
The event started with a 2 speakers discussing "Lessons from Mondragon" (will try and get a links to presentation). The main thought I took from this session was the sense of community/solidarity within Mondragon which keeps this network of worker co-operatives together and supporting each other. This is very geographical and culturally based.

For the UK worker co-operative sector to succeed I think we need to work on this sense of solidarity and mutual self-help, which is more difficult due to the diversity and geographical spread worker co-operatives in the UK. We too often re-invent the wheel, or don't think about working together to satisfy our shared needs (something we do with-in our co-operatives). Any ideas on a postcard (or leave a comment below).

Bob Cannell of Suma ran a session looking at different approaches to strategic management within worker co-operatives and how mainstream managements systems thinking just isn't appropriate. Read his blog for notes on the presentation.

Britta Werner of Unicorn and Tony Gudgeon of Chelmsford Start, spoke at a session about the relationship within co-operatives between consumers and workers, from the perspective of a worker co-operatives and a consumer co-operative.  From a worker co-operatives  point of view it was interesting that our approach to customers was very similar from a service point of view, but our approach to workers very different.

The conference finished with a session facilitated by Alan Wilkins of CLADA looking at the opportunities and threats from the big society. I'm sure we've all discussed these countless times now so won't bore you with the details.  The one thing I will say however is; everyone talks about how to get involved and take advantage of the big society (and any funding), but what it should do is remind us of what we stand for and should be doing anyway, irrespective of who's in Government and what their plugging.

The co-operative movement already funds capacity building to help people help themselves; both through being members of Co-operatives UK and individual co-operatives initiatives like the Enterprise Hub.  What we need to do as a movement is co-ordinate and rally members to put less money into charities and more into developing the co-operative sector, so we are in position to deal with the big society (or the aftermath if it goes badly wrong).

To end on a less serious note, I unfortunately forgot to take any photos of the weekend so here is a picture of George our Rabbit who when i got home, in the spirit of self-help was munching on our flowers.