The Co-operative Advantage: Innovation, co-operation and why sharing business ownership is good for Britain

Dulas, a worker owned renewable energy manufacturer operating internationally

A new multi-authored book edited by Ed Mayo, The Co-operative Advantage outlines 50 co-operative innovations to boost the British economy.

Based on three years of research with co-operative business experts, The Co-operative Advantage analyses growth sectors around which the co-operative model has an edge and a fit that offers a competitive advantage – identifying 50 potential innovations that dovetail with emerging trends in technology and markets. The total economic value of the sectors that we look at add up to 61 per cent of overall GDP and account for 64 per cent of total employment in the UK.

"The Co-operative Advantage is a very substantial, impressive book.”  Geoff Mulgan, Chief Executive,  NESTA

The innovation economy

Britain needs to nurture a new approach for economic success. A vital ingredient will be harnessing current innovation trends that encourage a far stronger dose of economic collaboration.

Many of the world’s most successful firms are achieving results by embracing collaboration – creating informal networks, harnessing customers’ ideas, empowering their employees.

Research for the 2015 World Economic Forum predicts that co-operative innovation of this form will account for over a quarter of the total revenues of Europe’s largest businesses by 2030.

In an innovation economy, where knowledge is the new currency, businesses must co-operate to compete. We call this the co-operative advantage.

The co-operative advantage

The co-operative advantage is realised by giving the people involved in a business – the employees, the customers, the suppliers – a stake in it. Their participation has a triple effect.

Productivity: The boost from co-operation to the UK economy of higher employee engagement is estimated to be at least £59.4bn

Innovation: Innovation accounts for 70% of long-term economic growth in the UK, with the most common sources of innovation being employees and customers.

Entrepreneurship: Data on growth businesses shows that entrepreneurs are motivated to ‘build businesses and create change through co-operative relationships’, rather than acting as lone entrepreneurs.

The co-operative effect: Where 10% of GDP is generated through co-operative activity there is a significant set of social and economic benefits. An example of the ‘co-operative effect’ is around Bologna, Italy, and the surrounding Emilia Romagna province. The area has the highest density of co-operatives in Europe, generating close to 40% of GDP. This has brought about high levels of entrepreneurship, with networks of businesses producing high quality products. Emilia Romagna is the region of Europe with the lowest social-economic inequality between the rich and the poor.

Innovations for a new economy

Research for The Co-operative Advantage has identified more than 50 innovations that could help boost the British economy. From agriculture to social care, sport to insurance, co-operation can contribute to a step change in business practice. Here are five examples of co-operative innovations.

Open co-operatives: A new collaborative model that addresses the challenges facing online communities in developing open software and data. The key is transparency. Open co-operatives are the natural business model for peer-to-peer innovation that has shaped the online world.

Data co-operatives: The Swiss Health Bank has developed as a co-operative model for pooling personal health data, which is better quality, with the input and consent of those involved, and can be used across service providers. This enables consumers to take back control of their personal data.

Guarantee co-ops: Having seen success around the EU, small business guarantee co-ops assist in securing bank lending on better terms for small- and medium-sized enterprises.

Freelancers union: By operating in a co-operative, freelancers can minimize the effects of the practices of middlemen on their potential income. A freelancers union allows people who are self-employed, entrepreneurial but at risk to come together around shared services.

Social care co-operatives: The social care co-operative model gives life to the long-cherished idea of co-production, that the staff and users involved can manage costs and shape the service that is provided. This is an alternative to the traditional high-cost services of private sector health and social care providers.

Order a copy of the eBook here. Note: Co-operatives UK members get 25% off the eBook price. Email [email protected] for the discount code.

You can order a hard copy of the book directly from Cooperatives UK. Members receive one third off the printed cover price.

"Ed Mayo has played a leading role in almost every environmental and ethical business initiative over the last two decades." Lucy Siegle, The Observer