What Barcelona can teach about social impact

3 09 2013

Today, more than most days, I’ve been pondering the vexed issue of return on investment and it’s little regarded associate, social return on investment.

Return on investment in purely financial terms is easy to see today, as this is football transfer deadline day. For those of you who do not follow football, transfers of players between clubs can only happen between the beginning of July and the end of August (2nd September this time as 31st August fell at the weekend this year) and during the month of January. For those of you who live on another planet, Gareth Bale, a 22-year-old Welshman, has signed a contract to play football for Spanish football team Real Madrid for about £85m. Since his previous employer, Tottenham Hotspur, paid just £5m to secure his services from Southampton, his move to Madrid represents a massive return on their investment.

But what of the investments that all the fans of Tottenham Hotspur have made in their team? Not just all of those expensive replica tops with the name Bale emblazoned on the backs that are now worthless, but the emotional investment?

Football wasn’t always like it is today. Of the Celtic team that won the European Cup in 1967, the gloriously named Lisbon Lions, all but one of the 15 man squad was born within 10 miles of Celtic Park. Liverpool legend and member of the England team that won the World Cup in 1966 “Sir” Roger Hunt, used to travel to home games on the bus.

Huge amounts of money now pour into football, particularly into the English Premier League, and footballers ride in Bentley’s rather than on buses. Football is big business. But it doesn’t have to be the preserve of billionaire oligarchs.

Barcelona provide an example of how it should be. They are, self-confessedly, “mes que un club” – more than a club and offer a compelling insight into membership, control and impact on a club, community, national and global level. Barcelona Football Club is owned by its members, some 175,000 of them spread not only throughout Catalonia but across the world. Community ownership, fan ownership, is rare in the UK and has been seen as a route of last resort for failed teams but Barcelona show that you can have competitive excellence within a co-operative structure.

In the UK there are more clubs being saved from extinction by their supporters but even fans of larger clubs would like to see things done differently. I count myself amongst the 72% of Liverpool Fans who, when questioned, stated a preference for co-operative ownership rather than control being in the hands of US investors who, while being better than the last lot, will undoubtedly cash in on their investment at some point leaving the club at the mercy of potentially less helpful investors. Success through co-operative ownership, as at Barcelona, challenges the assumption that success can only be found by having a billionaire owner. If every Liverpool Fan paid £500, a proposition mooted when the last owners were looking to cash in their investment, there would be more than enough money to buy the club.

Being a football fan is a social activity not a corporate one. While clubs, like any other enterprise, need to prosper financially this should not be the only focus. It shouldn’t even be the primary motivation. Football clubs should not just be an advertising vehicle for pay-day loan companies, a stock market investment opportunity, a toy for a Russian oligarch or a property development business. The important point is that fan ownership would allow football clubs to be what they should be, what they once were and what Barcelona have created; an institution run by those who are most affected by the outcomes of decisions made in respect of the club, the fans and the local community, rather than being managed solely for financial gain of a few individuals. Football clubs should be managed for social impact in their communities, both local and the network of fans.

And what is true for football clubs is true for many other organisations. Community pubs are thriving in areas where they were set to close. The village pub is not just a business opportunity for a multi-national food and beverage chain, it is a community asset. In many cases where big business couldn’t make enough money from a village inn and closed, or were set to close, it communities have taken over. In running the pub for social impact they have also managed to make significant financial returns too, surpassing what was achieved by the brewery chain.

And lest you think that Barcelona are a single, unique success story you should know that the majority of clubs in the Bundesliga are organised along co-operative lines. There is a good chance that this has played a very important role in ensuring the stability in clubs like Bayern Munich, a team that won every domestic trophy last season and went on to win the European Cup and, more recently, the Super Cup; beating billionaire owned Chelsea in the process.

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karen is managing editor at http://www.the3rdimagazine.co.uk
looking at business issues from a more diverse perspective





The collective pursuit of wellbeing

13 08 2013

The thing that amazes me most about the current financial crisis, and in particular its causes, is not the situation itself but our response to it. The vast majority suffer in silence or, at best, content ourselves by sharing our disgruntlement on social media.

It isn’t clear to me that this will always be the case; after all it was a simple dispute over the access and use of a public park in Istanbul that brought thousands of people onto the streets of Turkey to express their wider dissatisfaction with the government. I find it difficult to believe that none of us really cares and that we will all be prepared to simply sit in front of our TV’s shaking our heads at the latest excesses of capitalism, abuses of power or environmental catastrophe. So if we are sitting on a tinderbox just waiting for that spark to ignite our outrage and bring us all out onto the streets then it makes sense to consider alternatives to the current system, and to get them in place, before the whole thing blows. If we can’t stop the inferno then at least we can have something that can rise out of the ashes.

In order that people don’t continue to feel that they have no influence or interest in the way things are we need to create a people-centred economy rather than a society that focusses on, and celebrates, the mindless accumulation of possessions and wealth. The current model of capitalism, the Ango/American model, is characterised by both increased levels of inequality and decreased levels of wellbeing. This has had huge financial implications as the state, through the NHS and benefits system, has to up the bill. We have all become accustomed to the idea of maximising profit rather than maximising value in a wider sense.

Greed, the cult of the individual and philosophies of exclusion must be replaced by solidarity, community and inclusion.

From my perspective, while there is a need to create a new type of economy there is no need to create one from scratch; co-operative enterprises already have a business model that puts people at the centre of the decision-making process. By encouraging participation, by bringing people with shared values together working towards a common goal, individual and collective needs can be met.

A huge industry has grown up selling the dream of personal happiness and many thousands of books promise a quick fix for a better life. The happiness industry is like the diet industry, it survives and prospers because so many of its clients fail and have to come back again and again. While the industry grows, built as it is around individual goals and aspirations, wellbeing in society as a whole declines. How much better to take a co-operative approach and give people the means to help themselves by enabling them to co-operate with and support others. When we as individuals can find a common cause we are more open to the needs of others and this openess allows others to co-operate with us. At base level this is how early societies were established. Early humans could not hunt for large prey alone. It takes more than one person, even if that one person has a very sharp spear, to fell a mammoth! Societies grew out of the absolute imperative of co-operation in order to survive.

If the only common cause that can be found is standing together to collect job seekers allowance then is it really so surprising that wellbeing decreases? And we are born co-operators. Studies of infants have shown that from a very young age human infants will work together in order to solve a task that could not be solved by one alone. More than that, they have shown that if the rewards for working together are not distributed evenly the infant who has arbitrarily received a greater reward will share the unearned bounty with their collaborator! This sense of fairness when working together is what actually sets us apart from other primates.

This desire for co-operation and equity exists in the philosophy of Ubuntu. The most easily understood explanation of Ubuntu takes the form of a story.  An anthropologist proposed a game to children in an African tribe. He put a basket full of fruit near a tree and told the children that whoever got there first won the fruit. When he told them to run, they all took each others hands and ran together, then sat together enjoying their treats. When he asked them why they had run like that when one could have had all the fruit for himself, they said, ‘UBUNTU, how can one of us be happy if all the other ones are sad? Now I don’t know whether this is an urban legend, so to speak, but it does sum up ubuntu accurately and sets a stark contrast to the individual pursuit of happiness.

Ubuntu asserts that it is society that gives human beings their humanity.  As with the mammoth hunting example, this co-operation for a collective good came about as each individual came together with others as a hedge against his own crop failures and where each individual has an interest in collective prosperity. Desmond Tutu explained it like this, ” One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World.”

The common good, “greatest-happiness principle”, is a philosophy most often attributed to Jeremy Bentham and developed by John Stuart Mill in the late 19th century. Mill argued that it is not one’s own happiness that matters but the greatest amount of happiness altogether and proposed economic democracy rather than capitalism, substituting worker co-operatives for capitalist shareholder owned businesses.

So from common good comes another co-operative principle, common ownership. In a business setting, there is empirical evidence of positive productivity gains from a worker take-over. There is also evidence that the businesses that result are more resilient to economic downturns. Workers often see potential in a business not seen by investors. By anchoring jobs and capital locally worker co-operatives have a significant positive impact on the social cohesion of the local economy.

On a global scale, nobody goes hungry because we have no food. Nobody is homeless because there are no building materials, nobody lives in poverty because there is no money.  People go hungry because the food isn’t where they need it at a price they can afford. People have no homes because they cannot afford housing. People live in poverty while, indeed because, a few accumulate massive wealth. We are accustomed to thinking that we live in a world of scarcity. We do not. We live in a world of abundance but one where that bounty isn’t fairly distributed.  Oxfam recently reported that “the world’s 100 richest people earned enough in 2012 to end global poverty four times over”. As a good friend pointed out when reading the first draft of this article, we can even take issue with whether the richest 100 actually “earned” their wealth at all.

And we need to feel that we have some control over our lives. Democracy doesn’t feel like democracy when decisions are taken far from the place where those decisions will have impact and by people with whom we have little or nothing in common.  Far too often communities have solutions thrust upon them, often from well-meaning groups. Solutions that probably seemed reasonable on paper but which lose relevance and resonance when parachuted into a community that has had no say in the process. Urbanisation and distant state control undermines empathy. We need to bring decision-making back into communities and allow people to have democratic control over their future.

Sociocracy offers a way forward in collective decision-making. This methodology has developed from the Quaker tradition of peace and of valuing the individual and from modern systems thinking. It differs from a democracy in that it is a method in which people work together to govern themselves. While it shares the values of democracy, equality and freedom, it is based on specific governance methods that ensure these values.  It is governance by companions, by like-minded co-operators if you will, based on each giving consent in the decision-making process.

Co-operative enterprise places people at the centre of economic decision-making which leads directly to a sense of fairness and equality. When we have a voice, when we have a fair say, when we are heard, we feel better about ourselves. In a very real sense, co-operative enterprise can be seen as the collective pursuit of wellbeing.





Community co-operatives – realising the potential

11 06 2013

Community co-operatives are organisations set up to provide services to a particular community which use co-operative principles to guide their activities.

When a community is a local community, this is usually easy to recognise as there are physical boundaries, maybe a village, or a block of flats but in an increasingly complex world most of us inhabit many different communities and play different roles in each community. For example, we may be a member of a faith group and a volunteer for a charity and a member of a local sports team.

Almost every activity which involves people coming together for common purpose has the potential to create a co-operative community enterprise. The co-operative enterprise I am most closely involved with, the 3rdimagazine, (www.the3rdimagazine.co.uk) is just such a community with women and men from across the UK coming together to create an on-line magazine which looks at business issues from an ethical perspective. We do not serve a local community but rather serve a community with a shared interest in ethical business practices and in furthering equality and diversity in the workplace.

Community is an active condition reinforced by active membership with people choosing to identify with and support community values and purpose.

Community Investment involves members of that community buying shares in an enterprise that serves that community. It gives people a stake in the success of that enterprise. Common ownership puts the assets of the community co-operative in a similar relationship to its members as the village green is to the inhabitants of a village. Everyone has use of the asset but no-one person has title or claim and no-one person can dig it up and take it away.

Throughout the last century, the model of community action has been one of volunteering and heavily reliant on grant-funding from public sector bodies and individual philanthropy. This is not sustainable. I am a fan of enterprise and I’ve run successful businesses for the last 20 years. I see community enterprise as a real alternative to the market failures in the private sector and the continual withdrawal of funding from the public sector.

Community enterprises provide goods and services to meet the needs of their communities. Community shareholders, unlike traditional shareholders, only expect a fair return not a maximal or rapid return on their investment. This long-term alignment of shareholders needs, to the needs of the community enterprise, promotes long-term sustainability over short-term profit-taking.

At a time when many communities are faced with the loss of local amenities this change in focus is, I think, crucial. And community shareholders are also far more likely to get involved, to become active supporters of the enterprise, and not just remain as consumers of products and services. This engagement also strengthens the business model. This flexibility of role: as customer and supplier and employee and owner is a true stakeholder model, and is more robust and sustainable than the traditional supplier- to business- to customer model. It is this combination of engagement, flexibility and sustainability that leads me to conclude that we need more community enterprise and ownership.

So, what sort of services can community co-operatives provide? Examples are wide ranging and reflect the needs of the communities they serve; from a creche in a tower block containing many single-parent families which enabled parents to seek work through to a launderette in a housing estate. Most successful community share issues focus on an asset, which is why community shops, pubs and community buildings have featured amongst the big success stories for co-operative community enterprise. However, just because a community lacks a service that it wants, does not automatically mean that there is a viable business model that can meet that need. As with any business an opportunity only exists if there is sufficient demand from customers willing to pay a reasonable price for the goods or services provided.

With our long term energy future, particularly our reliance on fossil fuels, looking increasingly insecure, more and more attention is being drawn to renewables, with local communities seeking to benefit from renewable energy projects based in their vicinity. By coming together to form a co-operative the local community can receive a direct financial benefit from the development and can use any profits generated to re-invest in other community projects. The profit generated stays within the community rather than rewarding shareholders outside the area.

From my perspective the key is enterprise and long-term viability and I think that the model of ownership and engagement in community co-operatives means that they can be more robust and sustainable than either their private sector or charitable counterparts.





Putting my money where my mouth is

5 01 2011

When we first launched the3rdi magazine our aim way to provide something totally new, totally fresh.

Business magazines were largely written for men and about men; who was at the top, how much they earned, who their beautiful wife was, what car they drove … you know the sort of thing! We felt women wanted something different, that they were interested in hearing each others stories, to celebrate each others success and to inspire each other to greater achievement.

The3rdi has become the most extraordinary collaborative project, bringing together the UK’s most innovative and entrepreneurial women …and 2011 will see us uniting to change the way the world does business.

I have always been an advocate of collaborative working and believe that working together we can be more than just the sum of our parts. What better way to demonstrate that commitment than making the3rdi magazine; the business that me, Phil and the team have worked so hard to build, into a member owned and run co-operative. Rather than simply reading the magazine you can own a share of the business!

So what does that mean?
Well, it is clear that the current system isn’t working; women are under-represented in the boardroom and in public office and issues such as work-life balance have slipped off the agenda. The bail-out of the banking system has continued to dictate public finances, with the perpetrators of the failures not only remaining in post, but seemingly unrepentant and still drawing huge bonuses.

Now we could sit back and wait for someone else to fix it … or we can take control ourselves – together we can build a community of women, become powerful on our own terms and be the driving force behind the change we want to see.

Over the past few months three areas have emerged as key if we are to improve things.

Firstly, we must empower the authentic voice of women leaders
Getting more women into the boardroom is not enough. It isn’t just a numbers game. A quota system, even if it was to be accepted by big businesses, which looks increasingly unlikely, would fail if it only delivered lots of women in the male mould. By that I mean women who squeeze themselves into the current system rather than changing the system to better fit them and other women.

We need to be powerful on our own terms and effect change within the system which will allow others to follow in our footsteps.

As a first step we are working in an audacious collaboration with Inspiring Leaders, who are taking the lead in transforming the way we do business by supporting more women into influential leadership positions, pioneering corporate transformation and creating sustainable futures. Amongst us will be senior women leaders: women with spirit; women of action; women of courage; women who make a difference.

Participation is by invitation only and limited to 150 influencers so if you think that you could be one of those women, women who dare to step beyond traditional approaches and who can lead change please get in touch.

Secondly, we are committed to improving women’s confidence and self-esteem
Over the past year I have heard women who were heroes of mine, including figures as diverse as Shirley Williams and Leslie Caron, yes, Baroness Williams of Crosby and the star of Gigi and An American in Paris respectively, all saying that they didn’t really have the confidence to go for the big job, for that starring role. Now, no-one dislikes boasting and posturing more than I do but we have to start to promote our positives. Did you know of Sarah Brown’s involvement with PiggyBankKids? No, neither did I until it popped up on a US awards website!

And our young women need positive role models so that they can aspire to be more than a WAG or a contestant on a reality TV show. There is lots to do but there is lots of great work going on in this area, like the GirlsOutLoud programme delivered by the Well-Heeled Diva and the3rdi ambassador, Jane Kenyon.

The co-operative community will bring together and promote best-practice in this area and create a positive environment in which women can flourish.

And thirdly, we need to Network UP!
I have to confess that I am not a fan of most of the networks that currently exist. Many women’s networks are little more than ladies who lunch. Others are simple business exchanges, swapping a photography session for web site design, for example. Many are just frantic business card exchanges, like children collecting the lastest football cards in the playground, working out which they’ve “got” or “not got” and adding them to the pile, never to be looked at again. And at worst, as Lord Sugar recently tweeted, networking can deteriorate into people just “bullshitting with each other whilst they should be working”.

But there is a place for building a community of people you know; people who you can turn to for help, advice and support in growing within a business or in growing a business.

We need to NETWORK UP!, that is to network above our peer group, if we are to build and grow careers and businesses. Again, there is some good practice out there and the3rdi co-operative community will make that accessible to all women.

This is just a glimpse of my vision and of what we will achieve in 2011 and beyond when we all work together.

Karen x





A fair society not a big society

19 12 2010

David Cameron needed a soundbite to lift an election campaign that had become bogged down under the weight of economic forecasts, inflation rate speculation, spending projections and discussions about whether Britain was in a recession or a depression, and he came up with The Big Society.

I admit to being horrified at the sight of a Tory leader stealing the language of progressive politicians. It didn’t occur to me for even the briefest moment that he might really be committed to improving our towns and villages by supporting community cohesion, and my skepticism has proved well-founded.

For my part I am committed to a collaborative rather than competitive model of business. When I say that I am committed to it I mean that I think that it offers a valid, values led model for business, that I am prepared to tell other people that I believe in this model and, crucially, I am prepared to act on my beliefs.

For several months prior to Cameron’s pronouncement I had been working to convert part of my business, the3rdi magazine, into a co-operative. The magazine had, from the start, been a collaborative project between founders and contributors. My vision was to become even more inclusive by opening up ownership and control of the business to everyone.

Since the election we have seen lots of action from the ConDem Coalition in cutting jobs, public services, welfare and massive cuts in education spending but precious little action in support of his call for the Big Society.

But why not opt for a fair society? I’m old enough to remember the huge wave of enthusiasm for change that greeted Tony Blair when he first took office. After the naked aggression and consumerism of the Thatcher years and the sleaziness and lack of direction that characterised John Majors time in office, the majority of people did feel, as his campaign theme at the time had it, that ‘things could only get better’. In his time in office he squandered all of that goodwill; the poor got poorer and the markets remained unrestrained.

My belief is that we have to build a society based on something other than naked consumerism. Life isn’t all, and isn’t always, about the bottom line. I believe that we have to place more value on collaboration and co-operation. It shouldn’t all be about accumulating money and material wealth. We have to start to recognise the value of time and compassion and community.

Years ago doctors were held in almost god like reverence. Remedies of all kinds would be ‘just what the doctor ordered’. Now patients expect more dialogue with their doctors. GPs are no longer the founts of all health knowledge as information becomes more widely available. Even my own father, at 73 years old most definately a child of the generation who did as they were told when confronted with so-called ‘professional people’, takes newspaper clippings of the most recent advances in surgery to his consultant and expects a full explanation as to why this or that procedure cannot be used to cure his own condition.

Access to information has helped to democratise healthcare and patients can take more responsibility for their own general health and wellbeing.

We must use this model of inclusion to roll out democratic principles and ideas.

It is not good enough for David Cameron to disguise the privatisation of our public services as part of his big society. Selling off, for example, refuse collection was just the kind of thing that Margaret Thatcher espoused. It leads to the exploitation of those groups of workers who are moved on to these new ‘arms-length’ companies which are often managed by larger private sector companies. Terms and conditions of service almost invariably deteriorate under this model. True worker co-operatives, properly constituted and properly managed do offer a way forward, with the individuals having a fair say in the way their business is run. It isn’t all about economies of scale or getting a quick fix on the bottom line of a council budget. It is about doing the right thing; about becoming a fairer society.

We have seen in recent weeks protesters occupying branches of Top Shop and Vodafone and others, in order to highlight the tax avoidance of some of our larger corporations and businessmen. While it is perfectly legal for Sir Philip Green to put the ownership of his Arcadia empire into his wife’s name in Monaco to avoid UK taxes, awarding her £1.2bn, tax free in the process, it is not fair. Arcadia earns it’s profits in the UK and should pay a fair amount in taxes to the UK Government, particularly as the cuts introduced as we are all required to pay for the recklessness of the banks start to take effect.

Electoral reform is one small step along the way. A system of proportional representation is the only way in which every vote cast has equal value. Currently if I was a Tory voter in Glasgow mine would be a wasted vote. Similarly a labour vote in leafy Congleton would be a waste. While the disenfranchisement of our young people has as much to do with the remoteness of politics and politicians the reality that an individual vote has more value than others under certain circumstances is fundamentally undemocratic and discourages participation at elections.

I am an entrepreneur. I start and grow businesses. I’ve done this for over 20 years. I am evidence that capitalism can be a creative force allowing entrepreneurial spirit to flourish but it can also foster the rush to profit at all cost that led the banks to take the world economy to the edge of the cliff. Their place at the centre of the lobster quadrille made it impossible for governments to allow them to fall. There has to be more, and better, regulation of markets or we and our governments will always be required to behave in the way that the markets dictate.

I have aligned myself, and my business, behind the aim of changing the way the world does business. To do this we have to address issues of fairness; gender equality across business and public life in particular, global sustainability and unite behind the values of a fair society and not be taken in by the Emperors new clothes of Cameron’s Big Society.