Two recent roundtable events on the ‘Social and Solidarity Economy’, held by the Co-operative College in Manchester and Newcastle, discussed the opportunities and challenges for co-operative and mutual models in providing work, products and services.
At a time when co-operative and mutual models are being proposed in increasing and varying sectors, from education and public transport to prisons and social care, to meet needs previously provided for by the state, it was a timely discussion. Participants shared their experiences of ways in which these co-operative and mutual approaches have worked in the UK as well as in the global south.
However, there was caution over the idea that co-ops are a panacea. Concerns were raised about the idea that co-operatives are automatically fair, democratic and equitable places to work. Furthermore, concerns were raised about compromises being made in order to compete for contracts in a competitive market. Other challenges include growth and scale – how can successful initiatives expand without losing sight of their original values and purpose? – along with leadership and succession.
This panel contributes to the international, three-year SUSY project, which advocates and promotes the Social and Solidarity Economy, in which the Co-operative College is a UK partner. It will bring together researchers to continue these conversations and debates. In the context of Brexit, and the lingering aftermath of the global recession, panellists will be asked their perspectives on the challenges facing co-operatives in difficult economic times and possible solutions to these challenges, as well as the legal and policy frameworks required to support and enable them.
Dr Amanda Benson is currently undertaking research into multi-stakeholder care co-operatives in Wales on behalf of the Co-operative College and Co-operatives UK. She is exploring the extent to which the Welsh policy framework and environment is an enabler and driver of success.
Dr James Coutinho of Manchester University recently completed a PhD looking at workplace democracy, democratic management and governance and social relationships in worker co-operatives, operating in a context of retail and competition. Undertaking social network analysis and participant observation, he has sought to understand whether work in co-operatives is different, and how membership of a co-operative affects working atmosphere, wellbeing and political attitudes.
Dr Alexander Borda-Rodriguez from the Open University is examining how the Social and Solidarity Economy can contribute to inclusive development, innovation and poverty reduction in low income populations in Ecuador and Latin America. How can SSE organisations develop technological and social innovations while promoting inclusive values within communities?
We will also be joined at the conference by Markéta Vinkelhoferová and Karolína Silná from the Czech SUSY project partner Ecumenical Academy, who will lead a participatory workshop on new co-operatives in the Czech Republic.