Peter Couchman is the Chief Executive of the Plunkett Foundation.

The Plunkett Foundation is the organisation which promotes and supports co-operative and social enterprises in rural communities both in the UK and internationally. It provides support, networks and knowledge which offers practical solutions for rural communities that helps to create thriving places where people live and work now and in the future.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

A new co-operative value?

It was a great pleasure to welcome Iain Macdonald, Director-General of the International Co-operative Alliance to Oxfordshire last week. Iain's co-operative path has been criss-crossing with mine for more decades than we both care to remember.

One of the passions we share is the frustration that so many of our British colleagues seem to believe that the founding of the Rochdale Pioneers in 1844 in Britain means that the British have no need to learn co-operation from other countries. Nothing could be further from the truth and Plunkett has been making that point for 91 years. The reality is that no one country has got it right. We can all learn from each other. In my recent talk in Sheffield I cited Quebec, California, Spain and Jamaica as four places that Sheffield could learn from (I also think that many places could learn from Sheffield).

Perhaps we should start a campaign to introduce a new co-operative value, humility, so that this movement, so rich in ideas around the world, can learn at long last to learn from each other.


  1. There are no such values that are in any significant way Co-operative in nature, or specific to Co-operatives; and such “values” were never heard of a few years ago.

    Then there were only the Co-operative Principles which were considered as of value (really only of benefit) in their own right, and without those principles being augmented by separate but by no means uniquely Co-operative values – so that now we have both Co-operative Principles and Co-operative Values or as many are likely to express it, Values and Principles – with values first and foremost.

    Those recently Co-operatively adopted values, whatever anyone might like to see or claim them as, form no part of, or are in any way essentially related to co-operative principles and practices. And those values are not specific to Co-operative operations either, They are all values that are more widely applicable to, are more widely adopted by, and more extensively accepted socially, than being in any way specific to the principles and practices of Co-operation.

    It is just a public relations cheek for Co-ops to claim those Values as being in any way Co-operative in character or adoption. They are values certainly and values which many have historically found worth supporting but there is nothing about them that is exclusive to, or unique in respect of, or in any way related to the principles and practices of Co-operation itself.

    We can say that commercially we support the principle of “doing unto others as you would be done by”. But that does not make it worthy or eligible as a Co-operative value and has nothing to do with Co-operative “Principles”.

    Since you can just collate any value under a Co-operative umbrella, in the sense that you can claim to support it, then you can say that all and any accepted values are or can be Co-operative Values. Indeed one might ask, what generally accepted values would not qualify as “Co-operative Values” – what among the many generally accepted values would Co-operation exclude and deem as not a Co-operative Value.

    A few years ago you would have never heard of such inventions as Co-operative Values only of Co-operative Principles. Those so-called “Co-operative values” are a public relations stunt, manufactured and introduced for public relations reasons and benefits.

    So of course you can add “humility” to Co-operative Values just as you can for PR purposes add any other of the many generally accepted values as if they were somehow Co-operative Values.

    What is it, that makes a generally accepted value eligible or ineligible for being called a Co-operative one. What is the selective criteria?

    Co-operation has benefits that are consequent upon adoption of its “Principles” (which indeed are not themselves even Principles, but only a statement of given Practices – but based on the general principle that ownership will play no part in Co-operative operations – where ownership will not be the determiner of property appreciation, not proportionate to distributed rewards, not the basis for voting control, and so on.

    Those Practices, misnamed as the Co-operative Principles do however exemplify the underlying principle of removing ownership as the determiner of rewards and benefits – but they do not encompass or imply any other values.

  2. So true Peter! I think it the great strength of co-operativism that it is an international movement and when I despair about progress in the UK it is often examples of co-operation overseas that energise and inspire me.