In our latest blog, we are pleased to welcome Ludovica Rogers, Interim Head of Co-operative Business Development 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.
CoopCycle is another example of platform co-ops empowering workers. It’s a European federation of bike delivery co-ops who have pooled their resources to develop shared software. Their web platform and apps manage delivery activity and are available to courier firms using a co-operative model in which workers are employees.
Red Brick Language School in London was set up as a platform co-op by two teachers who were frustrated with English schools increasingly using casual contracts for teachers and assigning people to classes based on business considerations, not students’ needs. They wanted to put the needs of students first without exploiting teachers.
The teaching platform was founded to create an online community where teachers are valued, paid, treated and supported fairly – and where students are listened to and taught with their best interests at heart.
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.
A global tuition service, a wine merchant and a 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.
If you are interested in platform co-ops and would like to find out more about the support you can watch our recent webinar, Platform co-ops – your route to an ethical digital business in Scotland.
Alternatively you can get in touch with the team at Co-operative Development Scotland here. We can talk you through the support available and put you in touch with Co-operatives UK too.