Reviving the Co-op Movement

National Conference and Design Lab
Melbourne  |  May 23 2016

Australia once had a flourishing social movement of co-operatives, mutuals and community self-help. It embodied our CAN-DO spirit and egalitarian ethos.

Where is the movement now? Can it be revived?

An Invitation to Participate

In the 1880s, Australia was known as the ‘social laboratory of the world’. We were perhaps the most innovative, egalitarian and democratic country on earth. Community self-help through co-operatives and mutuals, and an early achievement of parliamentary democracy, combined to drive this reputation.

Large parts of Western Queensland, the Riverland in South Australia, and rural NSW were developed through community settlement cooperatives – member-owned, community-oriented property development associations backed by their own supportive colonial/state legislation. Today, we allow nouveau riche property developers to dictate community settlement patterns on the fringes of our cities and to bankroll political parties to protect their business model. Australians are not quite as innovative and egalitarian as we used to be.

From the middle years of the nineteenth century, Australia had a flourishing social movement of credit unions, housing societies, bush nursing associations, community pharmacies, adult education centres (mechanics’ institutes), retail stores, mutual insurance societies, farmer-owned businesses, community clubs, musical and arts societies, building societies and subscription-based medical care. Today, this social movement has all but disappeared.

Many of the societies and businesses still exist, but the movement has not. Some societies were captured from without in the 1980s, through takeovers and demutualisations. Most, however, were conquered from within, through management capture of the operations and then culture of the societies, in part to satisfy external regulators who were unsympathetic to the mutual model, and in part to ‘fit in’ with the managerial ethos of the wider business world. Strong leadership from the societies to represent their distinctive cultures to governments, politicians and journalists who were immersed in the binary world of public sector/private sector identities, was all too rare.

And yet, Australians, like citizens and communities around the world, are now crying out for businesses that integrate financial sustainability and social obligations, and create market advantages for local communities. Policy makers are now searching for approaches to social and economic reform that are anchored in communities, build ownership and mutual responsibility, and generate social capital. At the very time when our cooperative movement is most needed, we are unable to find it.

This conference will explore what happened to Australia’s once flourishing movement of cooperatives, mutuals and community self-help, and examine how this social movement might be revived. It will explore initiatives and strategies which can drive a revival. It’s format is part conference and part design lab, with an emphasis on strategic initiatives for change.

Call for Papers and Contributions

Papers, presentations, workshops and strategic proposals are invited which address the conference theme, including the following topics:

  • Conceptual understandings and theorisation of cooperatives and mutuals
  • Solidarity enterprises and online platform cooperatives
  • Social movements and enterprise
  • Leadership in the cooperative sector
  • Member governance and its challenges
  • Management capture of cooperative and mutual organisations
  • Co-operation, neo-liberalism and managerialism
  • Emerging demand for cooperative and mutual models
  • New models for representation
  • The impact of consultancy businesses on social movements
  • External regulation and cooperative cultures
  • External investment in community and cooperative ventures
  • Rural regeneration and cooperatives
  • Urban and suburban cooperation

Expressions of interest in presenting a paper or workshop or proposal should be forwarded, in no more than 300 words, by 30 April 2016, using this online form.

REGISTER HERE

SUBMIT EOI HERE

Two Days in May 2016

This conference on Monday 23 May 2016 forms part of a series of reform events hosted by Civil Society Australia in 2016. Two events will be held in May 2016. Participants may attend one or both of these as they wish.

Monday 21 May 2016
Reviving the Co-op Movement
Cooperatives, Mutuals and Community Self-Help

Tuesday 22 May 2016
Red Tory, Blue Labour and Australian Politics
Political Parties and Civil Society

CLICK HERE for further information.

Venue

The Angliss Conference Centre is located in the Melbourne CBD, on the corner of LaTrobe and King Streets, on the fifth floor. It is close to train and tram services. Flagstaff railway station is one block away in LaTrobe St, and Southern Cross station is three blocks away in Spencer St. Trams 23, 24, 30, 34, and City Circle run along LaTrobe Street.

There are numerous accommodation options close by, to suit all budgets.

Start and Finish Times

Both events begin at 9.15am, finishing at 5.00pm.

CLICK HERE to register for one or both of these events.

Further Information

CLICK HERE for further information.

CLICK HERE for Civil Society Australia website.

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