The words ‘co-operative’ and ‘governance’ have rarely been written together in the same sentence, let alone in a headline. But now our democratic organisations are facing scrutiny. Rhizome’s even been asked to help facilitate an open space about it in London on February 8th 2014.
So what makes co-operative governance different? Of course there are the seven principles underpinning all co-operatives, of which democracy is principle 6, but from our perspective in working with co-ops, collectives and social change organisations it also means that:
- we don’t work for other people who simply profit from our success
- we don’t give work to people because they are our mates, members of our lodge, or attend our church/ synagogue/ mosque; we trade fairly, only prioritising other co-operatives because we know they also trade fairly
- we don’t go on strike, we communicate, we work together, we resolve
- we don’t have a figurehead who is forced to take responsibility for everything, we share the responsibility – and we share the risks
- we don’t steal from ourselves – what would be the point?
- we don’t bolt on an ethical policy, we start with one and develop it further; based on respect, we cherish diversity as it brings us strength, we cherish our communities as we live and work in them; we cherish our world – why doesn’t everyone?
- we don’t declare other interests as an afterthought – they are integral, we have so many; building a movement of radical change means working across borders, making alliances, having interests all over the place
- we don’t all look alike/ talk alike/ dress alike – we are individual, unique. And though we may make mistakes, we may buckle under pressure, we know that we always have others around that we can trust to support us.
So what might be some of the issues for democratic co-operative governance these days? Here’s a selection of some of the issues that Rhizome get asked to help with as facilitators/ mediators/ trainers:
How do we make time to get the processes right when we have to focus so hard on the business/ campaign/ change we are trying to achieve?
Do our high standards make it hard for everyone to keep on meeting them all of the time?
Does having excellent accountability and transparency mean we are vulnerable, we can’t cover up our mistakes?
If having power corrupts, how can we always acknowledge and manage each other’s power?
Does size really matter?