Gillian KirtonLast year CDS specialist advisor Jaye Martin reported on her successful visit to Birmingham for the Co-operatives UK-organised Congress, which focused on the theme ‘Co-operation: How?’ 

Twelve months on, Gillian Kirton made the same trip to the Midlands for Congress 2015. With the theme this year being ‘Co-operation: Now’, there were plenty of fascinating ideas up for discussion.

At last year’s Congress, delegates were urged to pitch their ideas on how to grow the co-operative sector. As you may expect, many innovative ideas were forthcoming and an action plan was born. I was therefore excited to attend this year and hear of the progress made by co-operators to deliver the plan.

Congress 2015 followed the same format as last year with five passionate pitches made in response to two topical questions:

  • How can co-operatives access more capital without members losing control?
  • What can co-operatives do to ensure they remain world leaders in addressing social and environmental challenges?

colourAs delegates, we were given the opportunity to vote for our favourite pitches on each topic – real democracy in action! The pitches were all well thought out and potentially impactful – I’ve summarised two below.

One pitch called for the UK’s 6,000 co-operatives to donate a percentage of their surplus to kick start the Enterprise Hub programme, which once provided advice and guidance to over 1600 co-operators. Mondragon co-operatives donate 3% of surplus while fellow co-operators in Emilia Romagna donate 10%.

There was a further suggestion that money raised by co-operative societies via the plastic bag levy should go towards this programme too. I suspect this approach would generate far more income than the fund had previously – which would be great news for the co-operative sector.

crowdThe second pitch looked to address the UK’s environmental challenges. While many co-operatives are already playing their part, some find it hard to implement changes or know what needs done.

The pitch called for the forging of alliances where expertise and knowledge could be shared, enabling the sector to collectively work on specific actions. An effective approach which could spark action from those co-operatives in need of a helping hand.

The resounding message from Congress 2015 was that both co-operation amongst co-operators and self-help are vital if we want to see these actions delivered successfully and the co-operative economy continue to thrive.