Chris Cooper from Co-operative College in the UK led a good discussion with eager co-operators from a range of backgrounds.

Chris Cooper (second top right),from the Co-operative College in the UK led a good discussion with eager co-operators from a range of backgrounds.

 

Democracy is not a guarantee of competence.

‘Democracy is not a guarantee of competence’, was a line that one co-operator was heard to say at the workshop at Borderlands featuring UK co-operative educator and expert Chris Cooper. So how do we learn more about cooperating?

One of the aims of the day was to highlight the opportunities for co-operative education in Australia.

Co-operative tertiary education

There are some notable exceptions like Sydney and Charles Sturt Universities; but on the whole tertiary education in the field of business tends to forget about co-operatives in Australia. Borderlands and Chris Cooper want to change this; and for the better.

UK co-op start-ups have a 95-98% success rate.

Why? Well, apart from bringing democracy and dignity to work; co-ops work better. According to Chris Cooper, the UK 65% of mainstream start-ups get past the three-year mark when more taxes start to cut in. However, despite a sometimes difficult birthing process, UK co-op start-ups have a 95-98% success rate in getting past this three-year benchmark.

Co-operative schools 

Things moved on to discussing pre-tertiary education. Chris outlined that there has been a ‘mutualisation’ of parts of the schooling system in the UK with more than 600 co-operative schools up and running there. Jacques Boulet from Borderlands talked about stories he heard when visiting these inspiring schools that live and teach co-operation. Tours of the schools are led by the students and are participatory in nature. In particular, one story stood out. Jacques recounted that in a school meeting a principal was not forthcoming with financial information about the school. A student stood up in the meeting stating that this was not in keeping with the co-operative commitment to transparency. The principal duly apologised and agreed to table this information at the next meeting! Clearly this is a different way of experiencing school.

A student stood up in the meeting stating that this was not in keeping with the co-operative commitment to transparency. The principal duly apologised and agreed to table this information at the next meeting! Clearly this is a different way of experiencing school.

More broadly, most of these schools service students from a lower socio-economic background. Also, many of these schools move from being deemed ‘failing’ to ‘successful’ when they take the co-operative route. The Schools Co-operative Society website (click their logo below) is a good spot to find out more information.

Food co-ops cooperating?

Some inspiring home-grown examples were mentioned on the day that sat a little outside of direct education delivery. One co-operator from Melbourne University talked about the food co-op movement and the progress being made to foster cooperation among these co-ops by networking them across the country. A national conference is being planned and we look forward to hearing more.

Let’s start an ‘incubator’ for co-ops?

A key recommendation from the day was to get a workshop together to establish a co-operative and mutual business incubator in Australia.

A key recommendation from the day was to get a workshop together to establish a co-operative and mutual business incubator in Australia. This could be for the purpose of developing co-operative education initiatives; but could also assist any kind of co-op start-up. In the UK budding co-operators are spoilt when compared to Australian counterparts. There is both a plethora of legal and business support to assist people to co-operate! Antony McMullen (the writer of this account) from Creative Ministries Network, UnitingCare, put a case for an incubator; with Borderlands co-operator Altin Gavranovic bringing in ideas already brewing at Borderlands as part of this discussion.

This will be the focus of a CoopWorkshop with Borderlands – log on to the MeetUp page to stay informed.