A short history of values-based innovation

My book Values on values in business is out soon, published by Greenleaf.


The book focused on practical tools to bring values to life in an organisational setting and it is for all businesses. But looking back, I can also see that the history of the co-operative sector that I am in is a history of innovation on the basis of values. Here are seven that I think stand out.

1. Equality for women

From the beginnings, in the 1840s, one member, one vote rule also applied to women – at a time when women were not normally allowed to own property or vote. Only in the 1920s, 70 years later, were women allowed to vote in the UK. 

2.Access to credit

In 1854, Friedrich Raiffeisen decided to take on what he described as the “vampire” loan sharks, Credit unions now provide a genuine people’s bank for over 186 million people in 97 countries.

3. Shorter working hours 

The Coop Crumpsall Biscuit Factory became the first only 8 hour day works in Britain when it introduced limited working hours in 1901. Nearly a century ahead of its time, it wasn’t until 1998 that working hours in the UK were limited to 48 hours.

4. Workplace democracy

Mondragon, now the world’s largest worker co-operative, with the slogan of humanity at work, was founded in 1956 in Basque Spain. Every member, ultimately, has an equal vote.

5. Sustainable energy

In 1980, with oil prices rising, three families in Ny Solbjerg near Aarhus – the Lauritsens, Vangkildes and Sorensens – decided to form a co-op to install a 55kW wind turbine. Within two decades, co-operatives like theirs had made Denmark a world leader in renewable energy. 

6. Fair trade

In 1988, coffee farmers in Oaxaca, Mexico joined together in the co-operative UCIRI (Union de Comunidades Indígenas de la Región del Istmo) to launch the first ever certified fairtrade product, sold to consumers in the Netherlands under the label of Max Havelaar. Today, three quarters of all fair trade is produced by co-ops. 

7. The right to work

In 2001, workers in Argentina took over failed businesses as unemployment soared. When Argentina defaulted on its debts, unemployment rocketed to one in four of the population. As companies collapsed, workers responded by occupying factories and continuing to trade in the new form of worker co-operatives. 170 businesses, some with over 200 employees, were rescued in this way by their workers and 93% of these are still operating.

Values are how you see the world and values can inspire you to change it.

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