Why should we co-operate?
Co-operation and collaboration can be the key to success for many enterprises. Forward thinking organisations, community groups and individuals are now increasingly harnessing the power of working together to build a better society.
As part of the co-operative movement, Co-Operative Alternatives support and offer advice to those considering setting up co-operative societies and preparing a Community Share offer to finance their initiatives.. Co-operatives give more opportunity for their employees, their customers, their stakeholders to engage in the running of the business because they, as members, control the capital of the business, and they have an equal say in how it is used.
Co-operatives are made of people united voluntarly to pursue a common vision for their community and thrive when members are engaged and contribute to their success. Successful co-operatives have many voices, many hands and many heads all working towards a common goal.
The relationship between members and the Board is vital. The Board is formed by democratically elected members which bring their skills, knowledge and time to the co-operatives. Decisions are taken collectively at Board level and Boards often consult with the membership when a broader support is required.
The membership of a co-operative should be viewed as a group of potential volunteers, users of your co-operative services, customers for your products, investors for your initiatives, Directors for the Board, activists, experts and successful co-operatives provide plenty of opportunities to harness the goodwill that members have to offers.
Recently, we assisted Northern Ireland Community Energy (NICE) in setting up as a Community Benefit Society and launching a major share offer that has attracted members and investments from across Northern Ireland and much further afield.
Here NICE Director Karen Arbuckle explains their decision to set up a members driven enterprise and what it means to the organisation.
NICE’s primary focus is the local community and its environment. We are taking forward renewable energy initiatives that will make a difference economically, socially and ecologically to our local society. It is this social and environmental focus and the desire to co-own community energy which makes NICE an ideal fit for the Community Benefit Society model.
NICE member demography ranges in age, geography, profession, interests and other personal reasons for investing and becoming a member. Reasons for becoming a member vary from wishing to support social and community enterprises, the financial return, wanting to make a contribution to reducing our carbon footprint, to those who wish to encourage co-operation and empowerment of communities because it is a good thing to do – a positive investment.
The abiding co-operative principle of ‘one member one vote’ gives every member an equal say in how the business is run. The support and involvement of members in the operation and decisions of any social enterprise is a key resource to the business success. We have obviously benefitted from members financial investment but equally and just as importantly we encourage members to become involved in the running and decision making thus enabling us to pool and draw on knowledge, skills, expertise, ideas and enthusiasm.
I have found that by becoming a member and being actively involved in a community co-operative is a great way for personal learning and development and for building a two-way communication network for sharing information. Involvement in making a difference to your own community – however large or small – is rewarding and gives a sense of achievement. I also think that because the business is socially rather than profit driven, it gives members the motivation and aspiration to make the business a success. Success breeds success – in working collaboratively we can grow community ownership and generate further community initiatives.