This week international leaders will meet in Davos to discuss how they can create the conditions for innovation which is viewed as the route to solving the threats from increasing inequalities, climate change, food and water security, weak economies and conflict.

In particular global leaders will be talking about how technological innovation can be harnessed to tackle these threats but also how they as leaders can create the conditions for a co-operative and collaborative approach.

Dame Pauline Green, President of the international cooperative alliance reported that the ICA now has a seat on the G20 thanks to the Australian cooperative movement. This is significant – cooperation has been recognised as a player in growing economies. The next step is to win the argument that co-operation can drive innovation.

Just as the press tend to have a narrow view of co-ops especially in the UK, there is also similar confusion about drivers for innovation. For instance, innovation is a collaborative process involving people who usually want to solve problems not one clever person designing new kit. The World Wide Web was created by hundreds of ‘techies’ talking and changing bits of software.

Social media has shown the power of connectivity between people and more and more we are finding that collaboration underpins almost all innovation, whether technological or social. Digital technologies have been crucial in speeding up the innovation process, just as social media has opened up innovation journeys. However, just following new technological innovation without any anchor in social values can lead to disaster. Just consider how financial innovation led to the banking crash in 2008 and wrecked Iceland’s economy.

Forget competition think co-operation

In my experience it is the absence of co-operation that leads to service disasters and missed opportunities. For example, many good projects fail because they fall foul of political calculations. Often real change can only happen when political leaders forget their tribal tendencies and collaborate.

Imaginative local leaders have shown that local recovery involves opening up to social entrepreneurs, the arts and the third sector as well as to business and to more innovative governance. It is the leaders who straddle sectors or work in between business, communities and the public sector that kick-start change. Innovative leaders give way, give space for others and see the big picture. They are curious not controlling and are open to local people, staff, the third sector and to diversity.

What difference does this make to the Co-op movement?

I think there is a case to be made for widening and reconnecting the co-operative movement with innovation, especially place-based innovation. This means understanding :-

That the language and wider narratives may be different – we need to make the connections across the political and economic landscape.

Making the case that co-operation/collaboration are the foundation for innovation and for sustainable growth.
We also need to extend the scope of co-operation from that of individual enterprises to reconnecting systems and governance. This is already happening in local “Cooperative Councils” for instance in Plymouth, Southampton, Oldham, Lambeth. This is a new narrative for ‘place-shaping’ and puts the co-operative movement at the heart of all economic strategies and political decision making.

Reconnect co-operative principles and the Party to those with similar aims and principles in Social Enterprise, Arts Alliances, Transition Towns and with young people through social media etc

We need to reconnect the co-operative movement with the wider political and business landscape and work with social enterprise and with innovative leaders across the UK. Once a market is established competition between suppliers is important, however sustainable growth and local economic development depends on political leadership that recognises the value of co-operation and collaboration in governance, services and in business. Good governance is underpinned by co-operative principles.