Making our mark

Today, I am giving my talk at Co-operative Congress – the annual gathering for co-ops – which this year takes place as part of ‘Co-operatives United’, the closing event for the UN International Year of Co-operatives.

We have taken the visual identity of stamps for the event and it is the comparison between the first stamps and the first co-ops that I will touch on.

Before stamps were introduced getting deliveries from one place to another was a nightmare. A free-for-all – profitable in town, extortionate in the countryside; paid for by the person receiving, not by the person sending the mail.

The first modern postage stamp – the penny black – was introduced in the same decade as the Rochdale Pioneers set up shop – both working to a different business model. The new stamps would be a single price, paid for by the sender for all mail across the country. The price of a stamp was set not to maximize profit, nor to reflect variable costs but to widen access and win trust – and grow the market on the back of that.

That first stamp enabled the ideas of the Pioneers to reach every corner of the land and then travel to every continent. To the position today where co-operatives have made it in many countries onto the stamps themselves.

Today, the debates around what form the internet will take in future – its openness and issues around, ‘net neutrality’ – mirror the debates around those first stamps and co-operatives. It is all about how to spread business on the back of transparency and trust.

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