Portrait of Darah Zahran, Social Economy Manager at Scottish Enterprise. Taken 22-03-19

Over the next two weeks we join our partners in celebrating Co-ops Fortnight. COVID-19 has left us facing extreme challenges for both public health and our economy, but positive lessons are being learned during this crisis, and we all want to harness this new culture of co-operation to change society for the better. Looking at this year’s theme of #KeepCooperating we caught up with Darah Zahran, team leader at Co-operative Development Scotland to get her take on why co-operatives will play a key part in our economic future.

“Among the sector, the benefits of co-operative business models are well known. Built on their values, co-operatives don’t aim to make profit for investors and disconnected shareholders but place at the heart of what they do a set of principles including democracy, concern for community and distribution of wealth to benefit all members. Interest in co-operative and other inclusive business models such as social enterprises has steadily been growing for some time but the arrival of COVID-19 has fast-tracked these models into the spotlight with employees, and employers alike looking for ways to do business better.

COVID-19 has been first and foremost a health crisis, and one which has demonstrated how closely interlinked our public health and economy are. The full scale of the economic impact will not properly be understood for some time but we know that protecting public health has led us into a period of economic downturn which will have serious implications for the population globally for the foreseeable future. This crisis is devastating, and it highlights many lessons to be learned about the way we have allowed our economy to determine our wellbeing.  Now is the opportunity to change our mind sets and recognise that we can change our approach so that the economy better supports public health. Scotland has declared its priorities for a wellbeing economy for some time and now we have the opportunity to embrace what that actually means and build a fairer and more resilient way of doing business.

Co-operatives are known for their resilience. A report recently published by Co-operatives UK reveals co-ops have almost double the chance of surviving the first five years with 76% of co-ops still operating after five years compared with 46% of all new companies. These co-operatives are more agile and adaptable and are able to provide local solutions to this current crisis and, by putting democracy, equality – and particularly social and environmental impact – at the core of their existence, they should be recognised as part of the solution for a future wellbeing economy .

Stories of resilience directly related to COVID-19 have started to emerge from the sector. Never has the role of the community shop been so important and we have seen examples of Community owned shops working extremely hard to ensure supply chain resilience and that their communities can access the supplies they need. Crunchy Carrot in Dunbar and Dunshalt community shop are both excellent examples of this.

This momentum is continuing to grow, with North Ayrshire Council the first Local Authority in Scotland to launch a Community Wealth Building Strategy. Co-operative Development Scotland are excited to be part of this partnership by providing support on inclusive business models such as co-operatives, employee owned businesses and social enterprises. We see this as a very practical response to the economic crisis we are now in and a solution to create local wealth and embed fairer working practices through well-established models that largely reflect and respond to local economic issues on the ground. It is exactly the kind of response needed in the current climate as we aim to Build Back Better.

2020 will no doubt go down as one of the most challenging years we have all faced for many reasons. But we have an amazing opportunity to change and build inclusive values into the mainstream and avoid a return to business as usual.  As we embrace a busy year ahead, we are here, ready to advise, assist and support more co-operatives get off the ground.

To find out more about Co-operative Development Scotland, visit our home page.