Playing Co-opoly at Co-ops United Manchester

Britta Werner
Britta Werner, Unicorn Co-operative Grocery & one of our promoters

We were delighted to have the opportunity to play and promote the game of Co-opoly at the Co-ops United event in Manchester on Thursday 1st November. We managed to set up four games running concurrently and came away totally vindicated in our belief that Co-opoly is an excellent tool for learning about co-operatives and especially what it’s like to work in one.

‘we take this seriously, you know!’

There was much interest in our ‘Pod’ – with people coming in to watch, asking us about the game, and asking where they could get hold of one.We asked players for feedback about the game – here are some of their comments:

  • the game cleverly illustrates a real-life problematic in co-ops, which is trying to find out what’s going on in colleague’s heads …
  • realistic but fun game, similar to working in a workers coop
  • one of the players immediately adopted the role of “Treasurer” to keep tabs on how many points the co-op owned in real time. This was used by the group along with some forward planning in case the points were needed to cover losses to weigh up spending decisions (e.g. “wage” rises for members).  This demonstrated an awareness that the co-op needs enough working capital to survive to trigger member benefit in the longer term and it also needs up to the minute financial information – something not all new-start co-ops understand!
  • die needs round corners, doesn’t roll well
  • black text on red cards is hard to read
  • good for children to learn an alternative to competition (especially siblings)
  • lastly a small child made the clever observation that for countries that don’t use Roman numerals – 1,2 3 etc. – the die would not work, so we agreed that the traditional dots would work better!
Fun for Kids & Bigs!
Fun for Kids & Bigs!

 

We were privileged to have the participation of Donna Balkan, from the Canadian Co-operative Association, who has played Co-opoly “at least 12 times” and who is a great fan of the game. See her blog about Co-ops United & thanks for the photos Donna!

playing Co-opoly
players debate their next move

There was a lot of interest in the new version of Co-opoly, which Toolbox for Education are currently fundraising for, which will be cheaper overseas, because easier to pack and post. Check their website & contribute if you can.

Come & play Co-opoly with us at Co-ops United!

Co-ops rock flyerCo-operantics, together with Unicorn Co-operative Grocery, Calverts & Cornerstone Housing Co-op are proud to present the first mass Co-opoly game playing experience in the UK! In Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives, players collaborate to found and run a democratic business. In order to survive as individuals and to strive for the success of their co-op, players make tough choices regarding big and small challenges while putting their teamwork abilities to the test. This is an exciting game of skill and solidarity, where everyone wins – or everybody loses. By playing Co-opoly, players discover the unique benefits, challenges, and operations of the co-operative world – as well as the skills needed to participate in a co-op!

Remember to arrive on time at 12.30  – it’s a board game and it takes at least an hour to play – see you there!

The Sweet Shop Co-op

a fascinating example from childhood by Cooperantics member Nathan Brown:

Co-operation is a human instinct, or “how a bunch of children set up a consumer co-op”

Through the filter of hindsight, childhood in the 1970s seemed to involve the sun always shining and the school holidays lasting forever.  We lived on a small estate of about 12 streets which was full of kids haring around on bikes or skateboards, and it also had a parade of shops.  This is the story of how a few of those kids set up an enterprising little buying group on the street we lived on.

 Being the last street before the wilderness that had once been farmland, our street was not quite the “fleabag” but being on the outskirts of the estate made us something of outsiders and it would be a lie to pretend there wasn’t an element of tribalism over which part of the estate you came from.  This led to a form of solidarity – regardless of age or gender, we would generally play together because we lived on the same street. We all had pocket money in varying amounts and to the chagrin of our parents we all liked sweets.  Whilst the local shop sold various sweets in an array of huge jars the minimum purchase was a quarter of a pound.  You couldn’t buy just one or two of a particular sweet.  They did have some “penny sweets” that could be bought individually but as nice as Mojos, Black Jacks, Fruit Salad and Flying Saucers were they didn’t offer the value that buying “proper sweets” by the quarter did.

flying saucers sweets

So, without prompting from any adults we developed a “brand new idea”.  Well, it was new to us!  We would pool our resources and buy a range of sweets which we could all share.  It’s quite possible that the inspiration came from a colouring book telling the story of the Rochdale Pioneers that my younger sister had been given by the Co-op at some point.  We all contributed money and sent a delegation (a girl my age and me as we were the oldest and therefore allowed by our parents to walk to the shops) armed with a list.

When we returned, we set up the “shop”.  Up went a garage door and out came a paste table.  Bowls were “borrowed” from kitchens with or without parents’ knowledge.  And then we set out our stock.  Each member of the group counted out a variety of sweets into a bowl and we set about working out a price.  For most, our pricing strategy (we didn’t call it that!) we divided the cost of the bag by the number of sweets in it and rounded up to the nearest half penny.

sherbet lemons sweets

First we discussed if we should split the sweets equally, but then after some discussion we realised that this form of “socialism” wasn’t totally fair.  Everyone had credit based on what they had contributed and this was written down.  As we consumed sweets our credit was reduced accordingly.  Once everyone had received sweets to the value of the money they had contributed there were some left over!  We had magically created more sweets.  We grouped together and discussed what to do.  Our final decision was to divide these up equally, after all we had all “worked” all day long buying and selling to ourselves.  The “shop” was a resounding success but only lasted a day.  We resolved to repeat the process as soon as anyone had any pocket money to go back to the sweet shop.  More than just a means to access a wider range of confectionery it had been fun!  It kept us busy all day and we enjoyed pitching in and working together for mutual gain.  The social aspect was as important as the transactions that took place.  While we didn’t have any “stock” we set about improving our retail area, devising systems for how people should be served and generally planning.

What we didn’t recognise was that while we had enough money to buy in the stock (capital) there wasn’t any extra to spend as income – which would be a barrier to growth.  And if we retained money to spend as income we wouldn’t have the capital.  Our solution was simple – a loan from the bank of mum and dad.  We would each ask for 2 weeks pocket money and explain why.  1 week for “investing” and 1 week for spending.  And if it worked out as it had the previous week, we would still have money to spend for week 2.  Our backers (parents) agreed.  The cost to us was no pocket money the following week.  A risk we were all prepared to take.

Other kids liked the idea and became “customers”.  We gave them the option of contributing to the pot but some wanted sweets in return for cash right there and then.  We didn’t mind that they hadn’t contributed in the first place as the money they spent still enabled us to buy in more stocks.  We had liquidity!  Two or three times a day there would be a bike run to buy in fresh supplies.  The choice of what to buy was based on what we had left (stock), what sold well (demand) and what we wanted (member need).  And if there were kids who didn’t have enough pocket money we would hold a meeting and decide whether or not to give away freebies.  More often than not they “earnt” some sweets by working a shift on the shop front.

With our success came the capitalist attempt to take over.  There was one family in our street who had money.  They had a new car, the son of the family boasted about his pocket money and he always had the latest toys.  They lived next door to where our “shop” was set up in the garage.  The dad – who smoked cigars, as all good capitalists do, just to make sure we can recognise them – went to the cash and carry and bought whole jars of sweets.  This competing venture had access to capital of a scale that we could only dream of.  Up went their garage door.   Out came their paste table.  And they set out to compete with us.  They failed.  Yes, they sold some sweets, but we sold more than they did.  Quite simply, kids enjoyed hanging round in a shared space.  They liked the opportunity to play “shop keeper” and we had a core of customers who had a shared interest in making our venture a success.

The “shop” came to an end when it was subject to an attempted coup.  The person whose garage it was decided they should be “in charge” and make the decisions as it was their garage.  We didn’t like the thought of subjecting ourselves to a dictator – we were democratic and thrived on equality.  First we tried to convince parents to let us use a different garage – no go, as everyone else’s was full of junk, dangerous chemicals or being used to fix a car. So, rather than work through the issues and resist this internal threat, we resorted to childish behaviour (we were children y’know): we wound the little enterprise up.  All the remaining “stock” was distributed according to how much people still had credited to what was effectively their account.  And what was left was divided up among everyone who had been buying.

A nice little tale and on reading it you may recognise most of the Co-operative Principles in action, but what does it prove?  I like to think it shows that co-operating is more of a natural instinct than competing.  A group of children, some of whom were as young as five, developed a way of working together pretty much in the spirit of the Co-operative Principles.  Transfer this “childs play” example to a real business and the undoing of our sweetshop co-op also shows that maintaining the integrity of the co-op requires more than agreed ways of operating, it requires skills in how to work together to overcome problems. Co-operative skills!

And the lucky winners are …

On the Eighth Day Wholefood Co-operative, Manchester

Birmingham Bike Foundry

Unicorn Grocery, Manchester 

have each won a lovely box of chocs as a reward for taking part in the Cooperantics client questionnaire earlier this year! Booja Booja chocs are on their way!

One of our questions was a request for co-operatives to share games, techniques, tools & tips for promoting and developing co-operative skills and we received some positive responses, which we will be sharing here.

The first one comes from the True Food Community Co-op:

Yes… Network, Network, Network! and get as many customers as possible to do the same.  Find a publicity message and recognisable image that seems to attract positive comment, and then network with it.  Start now and don’t stop – and have fun with it.  Occasionally change/update your message and image and share the fun with your customers.  Make them smile, we all need a laugh now and then!

Good luck from us all.

Thanks True Foodies!

& watch this space for more ….

 


Cooperantics – not just a website …

But now a co-operative! Cooperantics LLP was recently registered and we have applied for membership of Co-operatives UK. Partners Kate Whittle & Nathan Brown aim to provide co-operative skills development and other co-operative development services including support, advice, training, facilitation, coaching and the creation of written materials. Although we are starting small we hope in due course to bring in other members, and in particular we will be investigating the potential for developing a co-operative skills apprenticeship scheme.

Less Dreaming, More Digging

My favourite magazine lands on the doormat – The Land – an occasional magazine about land rights – serious and interesting reading over breakfast.

The lead story – ‘Less Dreaming, More Digging’ couldn’t be more timely, and in one of the many informative and thought-provoking stories, Ed Hamer asks ‘Can Britain Farm Itself’

Given the highest rate of UK unemployment for nearly two decades, and the sharpest spike in food prices in living memory, the author asks if farming could once again become a major employer in the UK and comes up with a ‘rustic guide’.

After some rustic number crunching, the author reveals that the UK currently devotes “the equivalent full time labour of 16% of our agricultural workforce to the production of goods for export, while at the same time 2010 food imports equated to an estimated 91,893 full time agricultural jobs”. This means that if we cut exports and replace imports with domestic jobs, the UK farming sector would increase by 66,315 full time equivalents.

Perhaps more usefully, if we calculate the labour demanded by a standard diet supplied entirely from domestic resources, it is possible to feed 62.3 million people based as closely as possible on the balance of farming and land use in the UK today.

But of course the bigger question remains: How many people could we employ if we radically change the way we farm?

More rustic number crunching reveals that assuming a modest target of meeting 90% of domestic demand, we can assume a budget of £140 billion consumer spending (based on Defra 2010 figures). Currently, our centralised retail model awards the producers just 8% (£11.2 billion). When applied to 50 hectares of farmland allocated to each full time employee in Ed Hamer’s model, this equates to a gross margin of £33k per person per year. This is not sufficient for a 120 acre mixed holding – so to support this level of agricultural employment the share of the food pound received by producers would need to be significantly increased.

So the author proposes reorienting supply towards local markets so that producers can receive a higher proportion of consumer spending. By aiming at the 58p in the £ secured by Farmers Markets, or 21p from local retailers, the picture starts to look more achievable. A farmer could expect an estimated gross £98,562 based on 2010 figures, from a 50 hectare holding with a combination of vegetables, cereals and beef, of which she sold a quarter through a Farmers Market, a quarter through local retailers and still gave half of it away to Tescos (!)

Ed Hamer acknowledges that you can prove anything with statistics, and that the model he describes is idealistic, and needs robust research, modelling and testing. However the statistics quoted in the report reveal the insanity of our current model – for example in 2010 we exported 0.25 and imported 0.28 million tonnes of potatoes. The UK is not even self-sufficient in produce suitable to its climate and soil, and with all the associated social and environmental problems arising from the current model, we need a significant policy shift towards promoting production and consumption of domestic produce.

You can read the complete article and many other stimulating and readable articles at:

www.thelandmagazine.org.uk/articles/can-britain-farm-itself-2

 

 

 

 

Co-opoly

To celebrate International Co-operatives Year, Cooperantics is proud to promote Co-opoly: The Game of Co-operatives where players collaborate to found and run a democratically owned and controlled business. In the game players make tough choices in order to survive as individuals and strive for the success of their co-operative business. We’ll be playing it with Somerset Co-operative Services before the AGM on 18th July in Taunton, so look out for a review of the game shortly after that.

You can purchase a copy of the game by clicking on the logo in the right hand side bar below

Principles Really Do Matter

Here’s a useful tool for ensuring that your co-operative remains true to co-operative principles – and hence continues to enjoy the co-operative advantage.

Principles Really Do Matter by Nathan Brown

Over the years, I have noticed that many co-operatives I have worked with or known who had suffered some sort of business crisis have had something in common.  They had lost sight of the Co-operative Principles at the heart of the business and the business problems were a symptom of a failing co-operative organisation.

The Co-operative Principles imbue co-ops with what is referred to by co-op geeks (hands up!) as “The Co-operative Advantage”, a very real but ever so intangible attribute that enables co-ops to succeed where other businesses might fail.  In all the focus on celebrating the co-operative advantage and the benefits that being a member of a co-op brings, it is sometimes easy to forget that they are a product of the application of the principles. So what can you do to ensure your co-op stays a co-op in deed as well as name?  Here are a few tips:

Get back to basics.  Be clear about your purpose or aims

A co-operative is based around common economic, social and/or cultural needs.  This is central to the internationally agreed definition of a co-operative.  Clarity about the needs you hold in common and want to address is vital to success.  Ignore the importance of shared and regularly acknowledged purpose at your peril.  There is a risk that ignoring your purpose can lead to “mission creep” as members with differing needs try to bend the co-op to meet those needs.  This can especially be the case if your membership processes require attention.  Eventually the co-op could cease to deliver what it was established for, or break into factionalism.  Sometimes your co-op may be able to address the developing needs of members, but this should be done as a strategic priority, not by stealth.  Sometimes the needs of the membership change but if an individual’s needs cannot be met by the co-op they can always leave – and start another one!  The open and voluntary nature of co-ops applies equally to leaving as to joining.

Sticking to the principles

It’s not difficult to audit yourselves on how you apply the Co-operative Principles, although sometimes some outside assistance can be useful.  It is also a highly educational experience for members both new and old alike.  As time, members, the trade sector and the technological environment change we may find better ways to implement the principles for shared benefit.

Take the 7 principles and then examine each one by one:

  • How does your co-operative implement the principle?
  • How does this contribute to your purpose or aims?
  • Do the ways you implement the principle pro-actively put that principle into practice or is it routine and “it’s what we’ve always done”?
  • Are members clear about why you implement the principles in that way?
  • Is this the most effective way to implement the principle?
  • Does the current way of implementing the principle cause friction or resistance among the membership?
  • Could this be done in a better or different or easier way?

You can find this and other useful thoughts at Nathan’s blog

Co-opoly

It’s arrived! My Co-opoly game arrived yesterday.

Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives is a creative and exciting game designed for the growing cooperative movement. Games have been proven to be unique resources that shape the way people learn, work, and interact with one another, but Co-opoly is more than just a board game. It is an innovative way for aspiring and existing cooperators, as well as other interested parties, to discover co-ops and to practice cooperation.

People who have played the game call it “fun and engaging” as well as “a great teaching tool about how to build and sustain” cooperatives.

Can’t wait to start playing!

Will there be a game in Taunton during Co-ops Fortnight?

Elinor Ostrom

A powerful and moving tribute to the late Elinor Ostrom by the Grassroots Economic Organizing Collective :

“Lin Ostrom died on this past Tuesday, June 12th, but there is no tragedy in the loss. We certainly doubt she spent her time feeling tragic about her cancer.

Yes, there is real pain in losing her, but the reasons for celebrating are just as real and much more abundant.  Her life contributed mightily toward reversing a major tragedy for all species on Mother Earth—that profound mistake in thinking known as the ‘tragedy of the commons’.

A few of us here at GEO had the immense pleasure and great privilege of working with a team from the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at Indiana University in Bloomington on the Collective Action issue we published a year ago this coming September. One of our collective members, Michael Johnson, also met her in Amherst, MA, at a dinner that the Valley Alliance of Worker Co-operatives held for her. Everyone in attendance was impressed with her razor-sharp mind, but also charmed by her simplicity and down-to-earth graciousness. She may have known even then that she had cancer, as she continued working through the last year of her life until shortly before her passing. A rather impressive way to deal with the knowledge of one’s imminent death, no?

Another awesome message came from her relentless and joyful focus on what needed to be done to make the world better at all levels of her life. This seemed to free her from her being mired in that endless status-seeking in which so many of us are trapped in order to validate our lives to ourselves. Prestige seemed to be a big nuisance to her even as she turned it to the advantage of her work with a twinkle in her eye. Oh! that we should all be just a bit more free of that absurd Sisyphean effort.

Finally, her legacy includes a working community of scholars in deep solidarity with her at Indiana University and beyond. A stunning resource to pass on to all of us. Let us hope and help in any way asked that the ‘Workshop’ community deals with the huge transition that faces them with as much freedom from the nemesis of rivalry and status-seeking as is necessary to keep the Workshop on the course she and Vincent, her husband, set it on.

Her’s was an awesome life lived fully to the end. May we all continue to nurture her legacy.”

-The GEO Collective