Twenty million conversations: how co-operation at street level is alive and well

People rallying to the support of neighbours and strangers has been part of the way the country has responded to terrorism and tragedy.

c14_logo_2017-200x155Some years ago, we updated research that was conducted for the Sunday Times back in 1982 on neighbourliness in Britain. So, this year, for Co-operatives Fortnight, we thought we would take another look with some fresh polling.

The results suggest that, while we know less neighbours than a generation ago, Britain remains a co-operative nation.

So, yes, the number of the neighbours people in Britain know by name has halved over the last three decades (down to six people, on average) and the number of people who do not know any of the neighbours’ names has increased five-fold – from 2% to 9%. The younger you are, the less likely you are to know your neighbours. Whereas only 3% of over-55s could not name a neighbour, 22% of under-34 year olds did not know any of the people who lived around them.

But the number of people who say that neighbours help them has stayed steady (80% in 1982, reducing to 77% in 2017). 22% of people say they keep an eye on vulnerable neighbours to see if they need any help.

And we do help out neighbours in new ways. There is a rise in help doing DIY and around seven in ten people help out by accepting mail or parcels for neighbours. Online shopping might be destroying the high street, but is it possible that in the back streets, home deliveries are prompting a tad more contact between neighbours?

There are disputes and they can be bitter, of course, but most of us (58%) have never had problems with any of our neighbours.

Based on the survey data, I estimate that there are around twenty million conversations every day between neighbours (19.7 million).

Untitled2Tragedy brings people together, as does celebration – such as the Great Get Together / Big Lunch two weeks ago with perhaps around 100,000 local events inspired by the life and example of Jo Cox MP.

Short of those, the most co-operative thing you can do in a street – beyond popping to the Co-op – is to say hello and introduce yourself to your neighbour.

One co-op, Chelmsford Star in Essex, which was itself started by neighbours around the London Road Iron Works, exactly 150 years ago, has produced a creative Neighbour Introduction form that you can print off and use.

Pop it through the neighbour’s door. Start a new conversation!



Introducing… the Chief Values Officer

As the field of values, ethics and compliance develops and is taken seriously by companies, I imagine that we are likely to see the emergence of a new role – the Chief Values Officer.

It is an old saying that business does not have a culture. It is a culture.

Uber are likely to discover that, after Travis Kalanick stepped down as CEO (while remaining as a Board Director). The move is good PR and good for investor relations, but a problematic culture can take a long time to shift.

Barclays Bank was a company that had a go at changing their values and culture, but couldn’t sustain it. Corporate chief executives change faster than corporate culture and values. The charges now facing the former Barclays chief, John Varley, brought by the Serious Fraud Office in the UK is just one more drip in a drip feed of allegations and investigations stretching over a decade.

Culture, and the values that shape people’s behaviour over time, is therefore an asset, or a liability, that has a lasting influence on the performance of a company.  So, who leads on values?

At the moment, it is relegated to one or another professional lead, viewed through a narrow professional lens. If the lead is given to Human Resources, you get one set of solutions, but they might not reach the supply chain or investor relations. If the lead is given to Risk and Compliance, you can operate in a systematic way, but with the mindset of risk mitigation rather than making the most of values as a driver of value in the business. If the lead is given to Corporate Responsibility, well, you are typically trying to plant flowers in the garden while the really big decisions are taken in the Boardroom.

So, could we see the emergence of a Chief Values Officer?

The idea for this was one that we had a go at writing a template job description for, at a workshop run for the Values Alliance in the UK. This is an entrepreneurial network of values professionals, behind the start of World Values Day every October. This year, the day falls on October 19th and the ask is to take the ‘values challenge’ – recognising that for so many organisations, there is a gap to fill between the values they proclaim and the values they operate with in practice.

So, with acknowledgement to fellow members of the Values Alliance for their input, here is a draft Role Profile for a Chief Values Officer…


Developing an appropriate culture and ethos

  • Formulates, reviews and refreshes the values and culture of the business
  • Curates agreement through a participatory approach, internally and with stakeholders externally, and acts as steward of a core values statement

Facilitating a culture of integrity in line with the core values

  • Integrates work on values across key business functions, including HR, Marketing, Compliance, Corporate Responsibility, Business Development, Internal Communications, Finance, Risk and Internal Audit
  • Oversees an appropriate system of assurance and reporting on key aspects of culture and values

Supporting good governance on values and culture

  • Assists the Chief Executive and Board to achieve high quality oversight and governance in relation to organisational culture and values
  • Embeds values across relevant corporate policies and accountability mechanisms for these policies across the business

Builds the capabilities for acting in line with core values

  • Shapes the programme of learning and development in the business to build understanding and competence around core values
  • Supports the effective recruitment of senior staff in line with core values.


The post holder will:

  • be self-aware, able to act in line with their own personal and with shared corporate values
  • model what it means to live up to the core values of the organisation
  • display empathetic listening and communication skills, understanding the agendas of the business, and different points of leadership in the business, and stakeholders outside of the business, in order to influence practice in a positive way
  • collaborate with other points of leadership in the business in a flexible way, without seeking to duplicate their work and activities
  • have proven skills in terms of the use of methods for individual, group and organisational development and change
  • respect the role of bodies that give voice to those engaged in the business, including trade unions
  • have the confidence to offer constructive challenge, being resilient in the face of inertia or inappropriate resistance

Is this in fact a Job Description for the Chief Executive Officer?

It is absolutely the case that accountability for values and culture belongs with the Board and CEO, on behalf of the owners of the business, but how do you organise to make a success of that accountability?

You could argue that the CEO should in fact be the Chief Values Officer, but to my mind in a larger business or organisation, they are better separate. The CEO has responsibility for envisioning the future of the business and in taking the organisation towards that, leading relationships to that end and operating with the Chair and Board to do so, while managing business as usual. Values and culture can shape that vision and that work. They are a piece of the wider jigsaw, albeit an essential and often overlooked one.

The Chief Values Officer can support everyone, including the Chief Executive and Board, to focus on values and culture in a consistent and open way over time. That is my thinking.

Comments welcome!


What makes a brilliant women’s organisation?

Doctor Jane Grant gained her doctorate in 2001 with a study on the governance of women’s organisations over time. It was something she had practice in, helping to form and then run the National Alliance of Women’s Organisations for a decade from 1984.

Last year, she published In the Steps of Exceptional Women, a biography of the Fawcett Jane GrantSociety from 1866 – 2016. A good place to buy that online, of course, is the women’s worker co-operative News from Nowhere – or the Fawcett Society’s own online bookstore.

After a conversation on governance in social movements, Jane passed me a precious hard copy of her 2001 dissertation: Governance, Continuity and Change in the Organised Women’s Movement. An original is preserved in the Women’s Library, which is now at the LSE and which she helped to champion, along with others such as Mary Stott, celebrated journalist who was the first editor of the Guardian’s women’s page and a longstanding contributor to Co-operative News. There is also a summary online, for the Centre for Institutional Studies.

Governance is as important to formal organisations in the women’s movement as anywhere elsewhere. But there are some distinctive challenges, rooted in the values that lead those involved to organise in the first place.

In the cause of empowerment, there can be power disputes. In the cause of unity, there can be internal conflicts. For those committed, often intimately so at a personal level, the challenge of governance can be an acute one.

The context can make that more acute still. As with the the rest of the voluntary sector, women’s organisations have faced cuts and challenges of funding.

Recognising what she describes as “an illiteracy with power and difficulties in adapting structures in the face of new challenges”, governance in women’s organisations was something that Jane set out to study.

She took case studies of women’s organisations, eight traditional organisations from ‘first wave’ feminism, eight from the women’s movement in the 1970s and the Fawcett Society as a bridge between the two.

The traditional organisations were all membership based. Several, such as the Women’s Institute and Mothers’ Union still are. But all have been affected in more recent times by falling membership. One of these is the Co-operative Women’s Guild, which in England and Wales closed two years ago. In 1939, as I recounted in a recent blog post, it had a membership of 87,000. Writing in 2001, Jane described how its “once vibrant local branches” had dwindled to “Wednesday clubs for older ladies with little or no campaigning content.” 

The Co-operative Women’s Guild was a success story for a long period of time. Models of membership though have to be renewed for changing circumstances – not least women’s changing circumstances, competing activities and a general decline in volunteering.

Many of the traditional organisations, such as the Soroptimists, while open and generous in their culture, were hierarchical in their organizational structures and governance. The 1970s introduced a more collective style. They began from the world as it ought to be, one in which gender hierarchies had been extinguished, rather than the world as it was.

Rape Crisis centres from the time operated on an egalitarian and inclusive basis. That could bring its own problems, and over time a more hybrid approach developed. By 2001, organisations such as the East London Black Women’s Organisation, an extraordinary institution itself that had faced periodic threats of violence, had developed models that were “basically hierarchical in structure, but women-centred, universally admired for a highly participative and supportive governance and management which seems to bring out the best in all concerned.”

Leadership has been central to the tensions of governance. “The women’s movement has had an ambivalent relationship with power and leadership” Jane explains. “In traditional organisations, these concepts were recognized as important – with models of very powerful women – but sometimes abused. In feminist organisations built on a participatory-democratic model, power and leadership were often rendered invisible… There is now a growing understanding that power exists in all organisations and can be both used or abused.”

What happens when things go wrong? Siobhan Riordan writes that “sisters are not always nice to each other; their positions and status are not always equal; and their relationships are not always supportive.” The best organisations, Jane concluded were those that created institutional solutions to conflict, lessening the chance of becoming locked into personalized disputes. An example from the Girlguiding, is a set of protocols for behaviour between staff and volunteers, welcoming difference but recognising what to do that turns to conflict.

Core to her research was to understand the factors by which organisations in social movements can endure over time. The organised women’s movement shares many of the challenges of other voluntary organisations, such as funding, structures and accountability, but experiences some challenges in a distinctive and acute way, especially those, Jane concludes, “around structure, power, leadership, income and conflict.”

Adapting, and simplifying what she says, for the purpose of a blog post, these are the eight criteria that emerge for measuring the success and effectiveness of a women’s organisation and its governance over time:

  1. Does it have a purpose which women see as relevant and important?
  2. Does it make a difference in the real world?
  3. Does it have a diverse and involved membership?
  4. Is it well-governed, able to deal with conflict?
  5. Is it able to evolve and adapt with the times?
  6. Is it accountable?
  7. Does it encourage partnership?
  8. Does it have the financial health to plan ahead?

What makes a brilliant women’s organisation is putting these into practice. As Monique Leroux, President of the International Co-operative Alliance, says “wishing for diversity simply will not do the trick, any more than wishing for nice weather. It takes strong measures and firm commitment.”

Happy Co-operatives Fortnight… #coopstories

It is Co-operatives Fortnight, from today until Saturday July 1st.

On that day, we hold our Co-operative Congress and it is the United Nations International Day of Co-operatives, linking people across the world.

The Fortnight is a time for celebrating the people in co-operatives and the stories of how they came together and are working together.

And if you are on Twitter or Instagram, by the way, then you are more than welcome to post your own comments -under the hashtag of #coopstories

It is time to co-operate…

Happy Co-operatives Fortnight!

The Rise and Fall of the Co-operative Women’s Guild – #coopstories

The Women’s Co-operative Guild (later the Co-operative Women’s Guild) was founded in 1883. The many members it attracted were largely working class, grassroots and in time, politically active women – a rare combination.

Margaret Llewellyn Davies was General Secretary from 1889 – 1921 and she helped to grow the Guild into a formidable rank-and-file organisation articulating the rights of women.

The Guild was active in shaping an extraordinary range of social legislation at the time. Maternity cover was one, boosted by a moving collection, Maternity: Letters from Working Women, edited by Llewellyn Davies. Others were birth control, child health, divorce reform, the legalization of abortion, the cost of living and consumer rights, employment and equal pay, health and housing policy through to social security and pensions.

The motto, as Eleanor Barton, General Secretary 1925 – 1937, put it was “Doing is the Thing.”    

In the 1930s, it was the peace campaign that defined the Guild, responsible for


introducing the white poppy as a symbol of peace. The banners of the Guild branches were always a thing of pride, and flowers, and the poppy, were common images.

The Second World War challenged the stance of the Guild, as people were torn between pacifism and resistance to fascism – and membership numbers fell between 1939 and 1946, from 87,000 to 57,000 in part as a result.

The Guild arguably never regained its prominence. The consumer co-operative sector was consolidating and its retail businesses in decline for some time, while the structures, of hierarchy, and culture of ritual traditions, of the Guild didn’t help the cause of renewal.

The impact on the lives of its members, though, was deep enough to be recalled in a series of moving testimonies at its centenary in 1983. One talked of the trouble membership could get her into with her husband: “half the time the men didn’t want them to go out and half the time there was a scene when they got back sort of thing but they were determined to go. A penny a week it was to belong. Well I learned all I knew in the Guild movement.”

The archive is held by the Co-operative Heritage Trust, including around 130 banners. A wonderful presentation unit7-webcover-210x148published in recent years sets out the story of women in the co-operative movement in more detail – from Basket to Boardroom.

As Jane Grant writes, in her research on governance in women’s organisations (that I plan to blog on next week), the Guild “built confidence, opened doors into all areas of public life, made its members feel special.”

The granddaughter of one Guild member is Ruth Fitzjohn, President of Midcounties Co-op, and a member of the Gender Equality Committee of the International Co-operative Alliance: “my grandmother, a mill worker who died before I was born, went almost every week of her adult life all through the 1930s, 40s and 50s. It was at the core of her adult life.”

Doing is the thing and the focus that Ruth and other members of the Gender Equality Committee are bringing to their work is on making change. The same focus will hold too, it is hoped, for a new Gender Equality Committee formed by Co-operatives Europe. In the UK, a Facebook group on women in co-operatives, now 200 hundred strong, was formed by Britta Werner, Unicorn Grocery and Vice Chair of Co-operatives UK, in March 2016.

The same impulse is driving campaigns such as the Co-operative Women’s Challenge. An excellent slide deck from recent research by the Co-operative College gives voice to women in the co-operative sector. The College is now coordinating an event next month at Federation in Manchester for women in co-ops.Slide01

Until inequality is a rarity and a surprise, there will always be an impetus for co-operation to prompt and promote gender equality.

Minessence: the story of a global co-op #coopstories #values

“It doesn’t matter what values you have. What matters is how you live them.” 

These are the words of Paul Chippendale, founder of a remarkable co-operative designed to help people to live their values.

Mi-Coop_LogoMinessence Co-operative was formed in 2014, a rare story of a global co-operative working across borders. It’s roots though go back thirty years.

Paul Chippendale had twin interests in technology systems and human culture. In the 1970s, he studied non-linear systems (chaos) theory and a decade later was working as Chief Information Officer in the telecoms sector in Australia.

What he came to realise, in his own company and its competitors, was that an organisation’s values, and those of its people, are pivotal processes in how that organisation develops. He also saw that there was little available to help people to work with values in a work setting, so, like all great entrepreneurs, he took the risk to meet that need, leaving his role to work full-time on values.

The first tool he developed, adapting it collaboratively from an earlier, more faith-based model – the Hall-Tonna Inventory of Values – was a way to map personal and organisational values.

This became the flagship product – the AVI: A Values Inventory which is specifically designed to discover unconscious priority values. As Carl Jung puts it, “until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

The AVI is now one of the world’s leading values inventories and has been used here in the UK by many voluntary sector organisations including Healthwatch, Volunteer Centres, Childrens Centres and multi agency partnerships and across the world by companies as diverse as Coca Cola (NZ), Vodafone, Lion Nathan, Westfield, and Burger King. In my view it is the way in which the inventory can be used to challenge and encourage practice in mainstream companies that is a testament to the integrity of the approach.

One aspect of the AVI that distinguishes it from all other values inventories is that it is under continual development by an international team, driven by input from those who use it. Just as values themselves are dynamic ideas which respond to context Paul has been determined from the start that the AVI evolve in its consciousness alongside emerging concerns of wider society. From an early stage, Paul started to accredit professionals as ‘values coaches’, training them to use the inventory and its related tools, subsequently encouraging these new practitioners to invest their learning and insights into the collective wisdom around the tool and its applications.


Is there a philosophy behind the AVI? Not in the sense of an ideology, but as you would expect of someone who lives and breathes values, Paul has articulated a sense of what matters most for the pursuit of the good life. These come down, in short, to three capabilities – ones that I imagine could link philosophical thinkers from Seneca in Ancient Rome to Thich Nhat Hanh today.

The three capabilities are:

  • acceptance;
  • commitment; and
  • conscious living.

After time, Paul faced the challenge that all entrepreneurs face, which is that of succession. All his knowledge of systems suggested that a single enterprise could not control what was needed to spread like a benign virus through business settings across the world. He therefore turned the organisation on its head, and invited its accredited trainers from around the world to become partners and members of Minessence now converted into a global co-op.

It was the core value and seven principles of the co-operative movement that attracted Pauls attention and the enthusiasm of his fellow founding directors. The co-operative model values aligned closely with the original core values of the former Minessence Group so in January 2015, the co-op was formally registered in Australia.

The mission is one of profound social change, rather than narrow commercial positioning. It is “to engage in the transformation of society through both individual independent action and cooperative action, bound together by a commitment to the mission and vision of our collaborative enterprise.”

My contact with Paul has been through the UK director, Jackie Le Fèvre, who runs


Magma Effect and has an extraordinary knowledge and passion on the theme of values in organisational life and has helped me extensively in the context of my own work with co-ops, and findings set out in my recent book Values.

With other colleagues, she is also instrumental in the running of World Values Day, now in its second year. You can read more of the ‘values challenge’ coming up this year, in October, and its launch this week with an event at the Royal Society of Arts.

img_3173Minessence describes itself as world leaders in developing technologies  to support values-based personal, relational, team, organisational and societal development. Next on the list is an approach to apply these specifically in the context of other co-operatives – work which aligns with Principle 6 Co-operation to support the wider sector.

Watch this space. Watch these values.