Peak co-operation

Me. Everest. No.

But my counterpart in the Nepalese co-operative sector has done just that, climbing Mount Everest with the flag of the International Co-operative Alliance. Along with ten colleagues, the General Secretary of the Nepal Information and Communication Central Co-operative Union took the flag and the United Nations International Year of Co-operatives logo to the peak.

My daughter and I didn’t even make it up Scarfell Pike.

Sivakumar Dangi, you are a better man than me.


Tomorrow’s business

I have been asked to nominate a ‘young global leader’ from the business community and it has been inspiring, here in Co-operatives Fortnight, to research and submit the name of the great Becky John.

Born in Wales, Becky is the founder of a dynamic and highly successful co-operative enterprise, designed to create employment for refugee women in the UK. Inspired by her work and involvement over many years with women, including as a client herself at a Rape Crisis Centre, and her support and engagement with Amnesty International, Becky developed the idea for a worker-owned enterprise in 2008 after learning of a woman who was killed walking home from a sweatshop and reflecting on how little she or any of us know about the conditions under which underwear is made.

Her reputation as a rising star in international co-operative circles has been reflected in awards from Co-operatives UK, purple praise in Marie Claire, plaudits from retail guru Mary Portas and fellowship at the Royal Society of Arts.

Whomadeyourpants – one of our member co-operatives and mutuals across the UK – is a worker co-operative, which is a democratic and highly participative form of enterprise. Based in Southampton, those who work there are members and co-owners of the business. Coming from varied backgrounds, as refugeee women, the staff have a mix of skills that they are able to bring to bear, compared to a conventional post, but they also have development needs. Becky oversees the training and certification, so that members who come in and out of employment make a huge leap in terms of their skills. As members, responsible for the success of the enterprise, work at Who Made Your Pants is genuinely transformative, in terms of self-esteem, responsibility and capabilities.

The enterprise is one of the best known of a range of small-scale, high end fashion manufacturers coming back to operate in Britain, which has been dominated by the service sector. The products are manufactured out of discarded materials from the fashion industry and are sold online.

The co-operative business sector encompasses one billion members worldwide, but the art of its success is as much about followership as leadership. Becky started selling things at the age of eight and for my money, she has the capacity to change, through followership, not just the fashion industry but the way we think about tomorrow’s business.

You can follow Becky’s upbeat, passionate and inspiring view of the world on @beckypants

A dedication

With the start of this year’s Co-operatives Fortnight, I would dedicate time and appreciation to mark the life of Elinor Ostrom, who has died this month. A brilliant, co-operative economist, Elinor Ostrom was the co-recipient of the ‘Nobel’ prize for economics.

Her story is told briefly in the New York Times, including the initial ignorance and astonishment of mainstream economists that her work on co-operation was being recognised.

Her work was far from complete, but in many ways, she would have recognised the world of co-operative enterprise as its continuation in practice.

Our Rory

Rory is one neighbour I met for the first time over the Jubilee celebrations – along with his parents, as he is three years old, and others who share the bond of living close by.

As a contribution to the coming Co-operatives Fortnight, June 23 – July 27, I have updated our research on neighbourliness in the UK, in the context of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

Royalist or Roundhead, a huge number of people took part. One in four people went to local events like street parties and got to know, on average, five more neighbours each, like Rory, that they didn’t know before. These events were organised co-operatively by a million women and half a million men (when it comes to community, it is males that are the second sex).

The saying runs that if you want something done, ask a busy person and this held true for the Jubilee celebrations. The more children you have in a household, the more likely you are to help out.

The events overall did involve a mix of ages – indeed young people aged between 18 and 24 were more likely to participate in events (28%) than those who have retired (22%).

In my original research report, Co-operative Streets, I argued that we already have a big society of neighbours and practical co-operation that is part of our national identity and something to cherish. Co-operatives like Chelmsford Star in Essex have been tapping into this, for example encouraging members to introduce themselves, and their coop, to neighbours in the street.

This modest research draws on a survey we commissioned from YouGov, following an original questionnaire first used in 1982, and which allows, with all appropriate qualifications, for comparisons over thirty years. I first heard about this reading the wonderful book from a few years back on co-operation by the great sociologist Michael Argyll.

The Good Neighbour Index tracks the percentage of people who, in the past two years, have been helped by their neighbours (74%), compared to those who have had problems with their neighbours (42%).

Perhaps as a result of the events around the Jubilee, the Good Neighbour Index has risen by 5% over the last year – to a level of 48.5 where 100 represents the state of neighbourliness in the base year of 1982, according to calculations by Co-operatives UK. The index is highest, at present, in Wales.

According to my calculations, there are on average 24 million conversations every day with neighbours, higher now than two years ago, in 2010. So this blog, based on one of those, is dedicated to you, Rory.

Stronger feelings, deeper relationships

Community development is one of the most enduring alternatives to conventional models focused on economic growth and over time, it’s resonance has alway increased in times of crisis.

Bill Pardy is, for me, a legend in the field, even if I can only smile wryly at his message this morning that says “Ed, I hope that you are well. We are having exceptional warm weather here in Newfondland for this time of year…”

Here below is what Bill says of his thirty years of learning and success in the field:

Community development, has in its more beneficial modes, recognized the intrinsic nature of education, development, and the value of the human spirit. It has always focused on people and their inherent talents, capabilities, needs and ambitions.

It is unfortunate that many current models of community development follow business practices; focusing on production and outcomes. They too have been corrupted by the expediency felt necessary to provide growth.

Traditional community development philosophy implies togetherness, understanding and cooperation and is based on simple values, not a single ideology. It recognizes that community is more than the sum of its most evident characteristics, which include physical infrastructure, the social environment and the services which people have come to expect. It acknowledges that community is the intangible and spiritual environment where people co-exist, raise families and build futures and memories.

This type of development springs from a movement of people who come together to find resolutions to whatever the problems that must be faced. In such alliances, people have commitment to each other and to the nebulous concept that is community. In times of radical change people dig deep within themselves and ask: what next?

Real community development engages people in a genuine education process, whereby people identify what really has value and what has relevance. They come to understand and agree that there is not some mystical end to be reached, but all are engaged in a continuous process of human transformation.

It is development founded on more than just thinking and doing, but in the belief that “being” is important and “belonging” is a necessity. Thus, valuing oneself, and feeling a part of a whole is imperative to life itself.

It is my belief that the essence of community is about feelings, which emerge from knowing and are deepened by awareness. The more that we become aware of our environment, our circumstances and those who share the world with us, the more our knowledge grows. Expanded knowledge creates stronger feelings, deeper relationships, and an enhanced sense of our inter-connectivity, resulting in stronger communities.

It is this writer’s contention that community begins when two people share. The sharing is what creates economy, social well-being, spiritual comfort and shapes lifestyle. Development is neither the beginning nor the end; it is the process and the measure of our ability to share. It relates to people, their aspirations, their dreams and, most importantly, their own efforts to bring these to reality.

Jubilee meanings

Jubilee has a different meaning for me, coming out of the Jubilee 2000 and debt campaigns. And I can’t help but smile at another meaning, unmeant for sure, in a co-operative advert cited by Private Eye this week:

“Co-operative Funeralcare: congratulations to Her Majesty the Queen on her Diamond Jubilee…our service is designed with you in mind”