Multi-Stakeholder Coops

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Pat Conaty:

"Most co--operative practice is single stakeholder. Therefore the co-op sector divides between typically consumer co-ops, worker co-ops and farmer co-ops, each generally with their backs to each other and walking away from each other. This one dimensional aspect is impeding in my view an untapped revolutionary economic potential for a new generation of full dimensional co-ops to ignite.

The key for a civilised economy is to unite citizens under all their actualities and capacities as creative people and providers. Thus we need to move to multi-stakeholder co-ops. This is in fact under development in a few countries - notably Italy and Quebec.

The focus is mainly on social and health care services but we ran another event in the summer with a different theme, ecological ventures, and the support for the model was equally strong. You will note that these new forms of economic democracy as they develop force the co-op banks to adapt to the identified needs and to work to co-devise diverse solidarity financing solutions." (email October 2013)

From Single to Multiple Stakeholders: an enlarged common bond

Dr Rory Ridley-Duff:

"In the previous epoch of co-operativism (from 1844 to 1978), the notion of a common bond was framed through the needs of a single stakeholder. As Edgar Parnell explains: “Members of the common bond group are those the enterprise was established to serve…for example: in a consumer co-operative, the common bond will be that they are all consumers; in an agricultural co-operative, all are farmers; in a credit union or building society, all savers and borrowers; and in a tenants’ housing co-operative, all are tenants.”

The problem with this arrangement is that ‘other’ groups are then treated as subservient to the needs of those with a pre-defined common bond, producing destructive side-effects. For example, recognising that consumer co-operatives could treat labour in much the same way as other private sector employers, Peter Davies wrote a book on human resource management to help improve their labour relations. Similarly, before crowd-funding and community share issues, co-operatives were frequently hostile to ‘outside’ investors. Co-operation might —as Parnell claims— be a beautiful idea but it becomes ugly when it institutionalises a system of mutual distrust and ignores the common bond that is forged through joint action and shared experiences.

The limitations of old co-operativism, therefore, stem from an ongoing insistence that non-members must behave as philanthropists. The logic goes something like this, “Yes, you can work here so long as you accept that consumers come first” (i.e. that workers must be tacit philanthropists). Alternatively, “Yes, you buy from us so long as you accept that profits go to producers” (i.e. consumers must be tacit philanthropists). More recently, I’ve encountered the following attitude, “Yes, you can invest in us so long as you do not expect a return any time soon, if ever” (i.e. that community capital is seen as a quasi-donation rather than an investment choice).


The FairShares Model suggests integrating (social) entrepreneurs, producers, consumers and (social and community) investors. With these changes, the common bond is understood and experienced differently.

Whilst it may pre-exist in a situation or shared characteristic, it also exists in the shared experience of creating alternatives to neo-liberalism. It is based on common bonds that emerge from the application of a multistakeholder ownership, governance and management system to social enterprise development. The benefits sought and interests protected are different rather than the same, but the spirit of co-operation remains the same — to create an economy based on mutual aid rather than market competition." (


Pat Conaty:

"In Europe and in North America we have strong Co-op sector good practice to build upon. What is fascinating at present and spreading internationally as a new tendency is the Multi-Stakeholder Co-op phenomenon. Known as either Social Co-ops or Solidarity Co-ops It has its roots in Northern Italy but it has spread to Spain, Portugal, France (still rather small there), Poland, Hungary and Quebec in Canada. Our colleague John Restakis has a wonderful chapter in his book Humanising the Economy on this movement. Mike Lewis and I also have a section on the Italian Social Co-ops in our book.

The key strategic point that I would emphasise here is that the Social Co-ops in Italy and the similar Quebec Solidarity Co-ops both unite and give political voice in a collaborative way to Commoners. Their strategic mission and indeed legal obligation by statute is the pursuit of the General Interest of Citizens and the securing of the Common Good, namely as I see it and as many of them demonstrate, the practical ways to build commonwealth and well being.

In Quebec there are now 500 Solidarity Co-ops and the unusual nature of this stakeholder Co-op (as opposed to traditional worker or consumer co-ops) is leading since 2008 to a mentality shift in Quebec. I heard last week from a Canadian co-op leader in Montreal that more than 9 out of 10 of new Co-ops formed in the past couple of years in Quebec province, are Solidarity Co-ops. That is a salient change in karma, it would appear." (email contribution, July 2013)

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