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SIE kommt! 20 March 2011

Posted by cooperatoby in cooperative.
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SIE kommt!

I was privileged (the event was sold out) to be at the launch of Social Innovation Europe in Brussels on 17th March. The Commission is opening such a broad umbrella that there are bound to be holes in the weave, and I fell through at least one of them.

In the opening session, I was greatly pleased when both key speakers, the Young Foundation’s Geoff Mulgan and Commission President José Manuel Barroso, credited the co-operative movement as one of Europe’s greatest gifts to the world. So I naturally thought co-operative ideas would permeate the discussion later on. But the main speakers were from regional authorities, conventional firms, foundations and social enterprises.

Then I attended the workshop on workplace innovation and found it still to be living in the corporatist world that I remarked on in relation to the mutual learning seminar on self-employment in November 2010. It would be a tripartite world, only the trade unions are absent. In fact it mostly consists of academics, while the employers and government are pretty silent.

To raise the profile of real workplace innovation, I mentioned the experience of my old co-operative, Suma Wholefoods, in organising itself according to Stafford Beer’s Viable Systems Model (VSM), under the leadership of Jon Walker. This has enabled a 150-strong workforce to collectively manage a business that turns over some €30 million a year, without sacrificing its founding principles such as equal pay or job rotation. Suma serves thousand of customers with thousand of product lines, and its key principle is to give each worker, each department, as much autonomy as it can, the only limit being the survival of the enterprise as a whole.

The social innovation project is a worthy one, and the co-operative movement should be at its core.

References

Jon Walker’s VSM Guide

A slideshow by Jon Walker explaining the VSM

PS: Sie kommt! (she’s coming!) heralds the unforgettable Queen of the Night’s aria in the Magic Flute

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