Monday, September 22, 2014

why not all coops should live to be 100

There are any milestones in the life of any business: the first (and 1,000th?) customer, the opening of new sites, and the length of time that the venture has continued to trade (this is no mean feat given that most fail within the first 3 years...)
Many ventures mark their trading histories with parties and such like at 25, 50, and 100 years (although there’s not many of that last group!). And as a supporter of various types of enterprise, it’s always gratifying to see how some business forms seem to survive the ‘test of time’ better than others – I’m not sure the empirical data has been collected to prove it beyond shadow of doubt, but my hunch is that proportionately speaking, co-ops tend to last a lot longer than any other form of business model.
And that’s important, because it shows there’s recognisable value and merit in specific types of business over others that make it easier to argue for them on the groups of sustainability, long-term impact and benefit, etc...
But – that might cause a problem for some co-ops.
Co-ops are created by groups of people to meet common shared aims or addressed shared needs, (rather than the ‘traditional’ motivation of private businesses which is to keep making money for as long as possible...) Once those aims have been achieved, or needs have been met, is there a benefit to it being continued?
Some aims and needs will always be ongoing (creating opportunities for employment, ensuring access to healthcare, or supply of energy), but what of those that can potentially be ‘fixed’ within a given time (supporting each other gain access to financial services through rebuilding credit ratings, or building members’ profiles in their respective marketplaces)?
As well as supporting them to start-up, I’ve also been involved with supporting co-ops wind-up because they were so successful in addressing the needs that they were created to address, that their members agreed there was no point in continuing it for the sake of it.
So while a long-standing business may be a cause to celebrate on the face of it, it might also suggest it’s been very ineffectual in achieving what it was set up to do: let’s therefore start to celebrate the impacts that co-ops create rather than how long they might have been trading for.

Monday, September 8, 2014

is #socialsaturday giving the wrong message about social enterprise?
So – in a few weeks time, #SocialSaturday will be kicking off: one Saturday in September that’s been hijacked to showcase, celebrate, and generally let everyone know how great social enterprises are, and to encourage everyone to do more trade with them.
Good idea? Possibly...
You see, while in theory I like the idea, other sectors have been doing this type of thing for some time already: international charity day, Manufacturing Day, national freelancers day, and so on... heck, some sectors are so expansive in the scope and range of their constituent organisations, they have a whole fortnight!
And all of them tend to take place during a weekday – a day when people are in their places of work; in roles where they can immediately start to influence and reflect on their workplace behaviours and practices, and are in a mind-set of being open to new ideas.
But fast-forward to the weekend: most people tend to want to relax, enjoy time with family, pursue personal interests – not be recipients of campaign activity designed to get them to change their spending and business habits. And by staging this day on a weekend, it sends a message that social enterprises are only really active in those businesses whose main trade is at weekends: retail, consumer goods, tourism – and that makes it harder to showcase those involved in manufacturing and construction, investment and finance, healthcare and education, public services, employment support, public transport, and so on...
I’m concerned that by staging the showcasing of social enterprise on a weekend, a lot of the wider sector will miss out on the opportunity to be seen and to show how vibrant and full of potential the sector is in all parts of our economy and society, leading many to assume that the sector is mainly about high street stores that are trying to do things a little differently (rather than enacting what many see to be a revolutionary business model) by not bringing it into everyday workplaces.
But as with all things I take a view on, I’m very open to be proved wrong on this (and hope I am...)