In our latest blog, we are pleased to welcome Ludovica Rogers, Programme Manager, New Co-op Ventures at Co-operatives UK who shares her insight on how co-ops can provide a more ethical, values lead approach to digital business.
The rise of digital platforms such as Uber and Deliveroo may have provided consumers with greater choice and convenience, but it’s come at a cost – to the riders, drivers and others on the frontline of those services. The gig economy that’s emerged through these digital innovations has exploited regulations, increased precarious working and created the conditions for tech giants to dominate markets.
There is a fairer alternative though: platform co-ops. These are democratically owned and controlled businesses that use an online platform or app to trade. A platform co-op is built on co-operative principles and values that ensure the business truly responds to the needs of its community and embeds equity from day one. The co-op model also keeps control away from external profit driven investors.
Platform co-ops put the power, profits and control in the hands of the people providing the service and, in some cases, the service users too. BSL interpreting service Signalise is a perfect example. Based in Merseyside, Signalise uses a digital platform that brings together Deaf people, British Sign Language interpreters and health staff, doing away with the profit-led corporations that have traditionally been the connection between these groups.
Both service providers and users have a stake in the co-op and they’re the ones in control. Interpreters and deaf members come together to collaborate, discuss and drive the business, for their mutual benefit.
Wings delivery service in North London is a platform co-op created in direct response to the gig economy in which riders’ earnings are unpredictable and often below the minimum wage. Launched in July 2021, Wings pays riders a guaranteed London Living Wage. It also provides them with job security, sick pay and benefits.
Wings operates with 100% zero-carbon vehicles and is committed to prioritising local, independent businesses over big chains. It was set up with the support of the UnFound Accelerator – a 10-week development programme for start-up businesses that use mobile apps or online platforms to provide services and solutions.
Delivered by Co-operatives UK and Stir to Action, supported by The Co-operative Bank, the UnFound Accelerator draws on an extensive network of experts to help platform co-ops plan their businesses and develop their products, strategy, branding and marketing. The next Unfound Accelerator will be running in spring 2022 and applications will be open from 6 December 2021. Find out more here.
Open Food Network UK is another platform pioneer. It’s a co-op that brings together many different organisations whose members collectively own and control an innovative software platform they use to trade the food they produce.
The co-op’s membership comprises food hubs, farmers, growers, community food enterprises, shoppers and buyers. The software allows them to connect with everybody else in the country using the platform, and to create their own online shop fronts.
Trading this way creates short supply chains – where the distance between food and fork is as short as possible, which reduces costs, waste and environmental impact.
An English language school, wine merchant, taxi app and social care provider – these are other examples from the burgeoning platform co-op movement. It’s not just about creating better conditions for workers– it’s about using technology innovatively and ethically to find solutions that meet a need while benefiting everyone involved.
Free business support programme for ethical digital start-ups
If you are interested in Platform Co-ops and would like to access support, Co-operatives UK and the Co-operative Bank deliver support via The UnFound Accelerator. This is a free programme for digital start-ups that supports founders in turning their pioneering ideas into successful platform coops.
The 10-week programme draws on an extensive network of experts to help platform co-ops plan their businesses and develop their products, strategy, branding and marketing.
At the end of the 10-week accelerator, teams are invited to pitch their idea to a live audience for the chance to win a share of a £10,000 prize fund donated by The Co-operative Bank.
The deadline for applications is midnight 6 March. Go to www.unfound.coop/accelerator to find out more and apply.
Alternatively you can also talk to Co-operative Development Scotland by contacting us here.