CoResist Exploring Enterprise

As an organisation CoResist explores & benefits from alternative governance and organisational structures such as consensus decision making and holocracy. The need to formalise an enterprise structure has arrived to CoResist so I attended Kate Whittle‘s workshop hosted by Stir magazine in multi-stakeholder Co-ops in order to compare this interesting model to what might seem like CoResist’s natural home, a Community Benefit Society.

Multi-stakeholder Co-op

The benefit of multi-stakeholder co-ops is they structurally balance different stakeholder interests aligned along regular co-operative values and then define the proportionate vote of each stakeholder. For us these different interests could be collective members, collaborators and Coexist.

So for CoResist we could have Collective members who have taken the collective induction and made agreements around the purpose and working practices of the group each having 1 vote, our collaborators having perhaps 1 vote per collaboration and the Coexist directors having 1 vote each. However as 3 separate stakeholder groups collective members would make 50% of the outcome, collaborators 25% and Coexist directors 25% so the user members would have majority control of the co-operative even if they represent less people.

It it important to recognise that a co-operative is a profit making enterprise, profit for its members not for share holders, so agreements would have to be made about the core values of CoResist and how that relates to profit.

Community Benefit Societies

These trade for the benefit of their community which as with co-operatives has some inherent values around asset ownership and the distribution of profits but for the ‘wider community’ not the co-op’s members. CBS’s can also apply for charitable status and therefor gain the tax status of a charity. Since CoResist doesn’t rent a business premises I am unsure how this would offer any advantage. A society also cannot impose different models of voting regulation, 1 member 1 vote is enshrined in the status of a CBS. So for CoResist this would mean 1 vote for each member of the collective and the option to invite collaborators or Coexist directors to join the society as full members. With CoResist being an open platform which promises to hear all project proposals from the community this would in fact create a more centralised hierarchical structure but would enshrine the distribution of profits back into the community.

It is my feeling that it is possible to write in on asset blocks as a multi-stakeholder co-operative as well as agreements around profits & dividends. However as these are co-op agreements and not enshrined in law they are changeable upon consensus of the members. This can create long term issues, for example if the co-op has assets it is always possible for the members to reach consensus to sell them off dividing the profits among the members, there is no legal block to this behaviour. One possible solution developed by the housing co-operative Radical Routes is to join a ‘co-operative cluster’ which means you give a completely separate co-operative membership to your co-operative and vice versa, this give power to a neutral group who can hold the members accountable to co-operative values.

I will be taking this discussion to CoResist next meeting, if you have any ideas or suggestions, get in touch !