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Co-ops: The Original Social Enterprise. By Davie Philip

by Admin

The Art of Co-Operation


By Davie Philip

I spent my summer commoning, practising the forgotten art of co-operation. I am most alive when I am collaborating with others, and I believe change only happens as networks of relationships form between people working together on a common endeavour. As a business model, co-operatives are fundamentally different to conventional profit-driven companies. They are founded on the values of self-help, participation, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. They are the original social enterprises and more awareness of their benefits may be incredibly beneficial to all of us.

Recently I moved back into the Ecovillage, the sustainable neighbourhood in Cloughjordan, which is now home to 130 people, 15 businesses, a communitysupported farm, Ireland’s largest community-owned, renewable-energy heating system and an enterprise centre. The biggest challenge we have is working out how we work together to ensure everyone’s needs are met. Through Cultivate, the co-op that I have worked through since 2000, I co-facilitated a number of events this summer on the topic of community ownership and resilience.

These included the Art of Commoning, a three-day summer school that brought people together to discuss the question: What becomes possible when we harness our collective capacity in service of the commons? Following this, we co-curated the Global Green pop-up ecovillage, the sustainability area of the Electric Picnic festival where commoners from 40 community-led initiatives demonstrated the art of commoning to 45,000 revellers.

From these events it has become clear to me that a commons and co-operative approach could enable us all to play a greater part in the provision of our food and energy, our housing and many of the services on which we depend. I’m convinced that this could be a powerful force for change that could provide a healthier way of working and living together while driving sustainability.

Could the co-operative model play a significant role in the economic recovery of this country by fostering innovation, providing sustainable livelihoods, and contributing to the regeneration of local places? Of course it’s not just the legal structure of the model that holds this promise, but the art of co-operating itself and new community-owned social enterprises are emerging that provide meaningful livelihoods rooted in and benefitting local areas. In Cloughjordan, these include a co-housing co-operative that is developing a shared model for low-cost, low-impact housing and a co-operative food incubator that will add value through shared processing and marketing of what is grown and produced there. But we’re taking it outside the village too.

At the end of October, we’ll host a programme of events called a ‘Co-operative Convergence’ across the country. These workshops, fairs, facilitated conversations, and field trips are planned as a way to inspire and progress a co-operative response to the issues facing us all and to involve, educate and engage a broader audience. In particular we’d hope to bring greater awareness to young people and opinion leaders.

For details on the Art of Commoning and information on the Co-operative Convergence see cultivate.ie

Davie Philip is a group facilitator and trainer who manages the Community Resilience programme at Cultivate Living and Learning. He is based at the Cloughjordan Ecovillage and is a board member of Grow It Yourself International. Davie is collecting stories of transformational community led projects; if you know of something in your area, send him an e-mail. davie@cultivate.ie | thevillage.ie

This is taken from our autumn 2015 issue, out now. Subscribe to have the next four issues delivered in print.

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