Oh Brave New World…
So, the new coalition is writing the third sector out of history… or at least consigning it to history. Where does that leave the co-operative movement? Social enterprise?
Perhaps we’re about to witness the dawning of the age of good corporate citizenship and the death of corporate social responsibility?
And may I say what a daft idea corporate social responsibility was? There are either responsible corporates, or irresponsible corporates.
You cannot be an irresponsible corporate and then lay claims to be a good CSR corporate citizen, just because you have a CSR department.
For example, in the unlikely event a huge multinational oil company was dim enough to allow millions of gallons of crude to pollute an environmentally precious sea & seaboard and then compound that error by trying to “treat” the spill with a chemical banned in european waters (surely it could never happen?), then the corporate’s CSR department could not claim responsible citizenship by painting “this lorry is carbon neutral” on the back of its tankers in the UK… but of course that would never happen.
So, what might a good corporate citizen look like? A social enterprise? A sustainable business? What does that mean?
How about a co-operative business?
If you are co-operative, then you have signed up to being not just a social enterprise but a sustainable enterprise i.e. socially, environmentally & financially sustainable.
These are what Paul Allen of CAT once described to me as the 3 legs of the sustainability stool. The principle being that if you take one of the legs away, the sustainability stool falls over.
With 7 principles and various values, co-operatives are more of a refectory table than a stool, but the idea is the same. If you take away any individual element of the co-operative values & principles, then you make the whole thing a bit wobbly. The more legs you take away, the more wobbly the table becomes.
There have been various government policies in recent years that – as a responsible corporate citizen – the co-operative movement has tried to contribute constructively to. For example, social enterprise.
However, I’ve come to the view that government policies are like oil tankers. The co-operative movement has tried and tried to get government to turn its oil tankers a little towards co-operation, with scant success.
A prime example of the is co-operative housing. Redditch Co-op Homes has been lauded as an exemplar of social housing time and time again. Ministers, politicians and other worthies visit and praise the model to the hills.
And yet, has a single government department opted to replicate it? No.
Personally, I have found that my small contribution to flying the co-op flag and developing the co-operative economy was transformed when I stopped trying to affect the direction of the government social enterprise oil tanker, and stuck to core business: co-operative development.
Like the Little Red hen in the children’s nursery rhyme, if the other animals in the farmyard won’t help us, then we’ll just have to bake that co-operative cake all on our own.