Mass co-operation

It has been a few days of criss-crossing the country for me, as we launch Co-op Fortnight 2019.

On Friday night, we reported the results of our annual Co-op Awards. Over thirty thousand people voted for UK co-ops they love across a range of categories. The Leading Co-operative went to The Co-op Group, a worthy winner no doubt for the extraordinary progress made over the last four years.

A new initiative is the Lifetime Achievement Award, which, following open nominations, went to the wonderful Roger Sawtell, a pioneer of worker co-ops and a celebrated man of faith.

Bristol Wood Recycling, Breakthrough Co-op of the Year

On Friday and Saturday, our Co-op Congress turned a spotlight onto the many areas of promise and progress for new co-operation, with a keynote address from the Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham.

Sunday I was down to Kent, for a licensing event for my brother, starting work as a prison chaplain working with young offenders.

This morning, I was across to Cardiff, as one of the speakers for a gathering of inspiring coop businesses coordinated by the Wales Coop Centre. My ride in town was with a growing new taxi co-op, formed by drivers to keep more of the earnings in an age of lift sharing and apps.

Deputy Economy Minister, Lee Waters AM

Today has also seen the re-signing of a new partnership agreement by the ILO, the International Labour Organisation, and the ICA, the International Cooperative Alliance.

This evening I will be in Leicester to give the annual lecture for the Society for Cooperative Studies.

All this at the start of Coop Fortnight, which will run up to Saturday July 6th – celebrated around the world as the United Nations International Cooperatives Day.

I am talking in Leicester about twelve early historic examples of cooperation. They range, among others, from ancient China and India to the Roman Empire and mediaeval Turkey.

They are extraordinary stories. They are also a recognition that today’s co-ops are not the exception, but instead are expressive of a deep and recurrent pattern of mutuality over time in the way that people choose to organise.

We are perhaps at our most human when we are engaged in mass cooperation.

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The UK’s first Chief Values Officer

The field of values in business has been growing in importance for some time and it is a genuine milestone that we can now welcome the UK’s first dedicated Chief Values Officer for a major business.

Pete Westall will take this executive team role at the independent co-operative Midcounties, a diversified retail business that employs 8,500 staff and is co-owned by 700,000 members.

Culture and values have long been seen as the soft side of business, but are now widely recognised as key to commercial success over time. The UK Corporate Governance Code for listed companies last year set out expectations that every Board should take action to set and monitor goals around organisational culture and values.

But who should lead on this? If it is HR, then how do you ensure that supply chains and external relations are covered? If it is risk and compliance, then how do values make their way into product and service innovation? If it is the CEO, then how do you avoid this being swamped by other demands on their time?

The idea of a Chief Values Officer was something we explored in a 2017 workshop of the UK Values Alliance, the member network that pioneered World Values Day – now held every October on the third Thursday of the month. I wrote this workshop up as a post – Introducing the Chief Values Officer – and one of those reading it was Pete himself.

Midcounties has a long track record of firsts. It was the first business, alongside a handful of other co-ops, to publish the details of their tax, under the Fair Tax Mark. It was first to offer consumers full traceability on their local food sales, through QR codes and a new app, Happerley. With member backing, plastics are on their way down and Midcounties is one of only a few businesses to be rated five star by Business in the Community. Through Co-operatives UK, Midcounties was named Leading Co-op of the Year in 2018.

Out of the global set of co-operative and ethical values, Midcounties under the leadership of CEO Phil Ponsonby and its elected Board, places a priority on four throughout its work – Democracy, Openness, Equality and Social Responsibility (DOES).

It is easy to see values as a constraint, as an attempt to keep institutions in train. It is a different approach to see values as a source of opportunity.

It’s coming. In today’s world of empowered consumers, concerned employees and instant social media, values and culture is the next frontier for business.