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Welcoming three new experts to the Co-operative Governance Expert Reference Panel

News item

9th June 2021
Last updated
10th June 2021
Co-op development

The Co-operative Governance Expert Reference Panel is one of a number of member groups facilitated by Co-operatives UK. These groups exist so that our members can influence our work, but they are also independent and authoritative voice for the co-op sector.

The Co-operative Governance Expert Reference Panel is our member group overseeing best practice for governance across the co-operative sector. The Panel is made up of experts with proven experience in governance leadership and/or innovation covering businesses of different size, complexity and risk profile. 

Nick Money, who recently stepped down from his role, described it as “an important and unique resource for the co-operative movement, which includes broad and deep experience of governance across co-op sectors." We’re currently seeking a new Panel member with a focus on on financial co-ops and credit unions.

Welcoming three new members

We wanted to welcome the Panel’s three newest members – and to understand their motivation about joining.

Introducing Abbie Kempson

Abbie is a member director of Unicorn Grocery worker co-op, where she’s worked for the past eight years.

She’s held various roles within Unicorn, including leading on a restructure of its governance system to incorporate sociocratic principles; administration of Unicorn’s international solidarity funding stream; two years as elected Co-Chair; and she is currently the elected Company Secretary.

After several years of offering ad-hoc governance support and advice to other worker co-ops, Abbie joined the first Barefoot Co-op and Community Business Development Training programme delivered by Co-op Culture in 2020. This resulted in becoming:

  • A founder member director of People Support Co-op, a sociocratic worker co-op offering practical advice, training and support to nurture co-operative systems and relationships.
  • A member of an informal collective of Barefoot graduates who encourage and support each other as we take the first steps into working in co-op development. 

Abbie is also an associate of Cooperantics, helping people to work together effectively in flat, co-operative structures. For the past four years Abbie has been studying and practising sociocracy as a working member of Sociocracy for All, and became the first certified Sociocracy Trainer in the UK last year. Abbie is currently the leader of SoFA's Co-op Circle.

Why did you want to join the Panel?

“When the vacancy was advertised I was keen to discover whether my experience in a worker co-op implementing a sociocratic governance system would be useful to the Panel’s collective work. I wanted to join to take the opportunity to learn first hand from the wealth of experience brought by the current Panel members, and to offer in return contributions based on my learning from several years living collective governance as a worker co-op member director. I was very pleased to be appointed as an advisor to support Panel members to consider ideas for research and guidance materials to assist co-ops interested in exploring sociocratic governance.”

In your opinion, why is co-op governance so important?

“The choices we make when deciding how to govern our organisations are fundamentally important when it comes to how well we reflect our shared co-operative Values and Principles. To embody the definition of a co-operative, a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise, we need to ensure we enable our members to actively and meaningfully participate in setting policies and making decisions. Co-operative governance is as much about how we work together as what we do.”

What do you think is the most important issue in co-op governance today?

“At a time when much of the co-operative movement is focusing on diversity and inclusion and asking the hard questions about why our co-ops are not reflective of wider society, I think one of the most important issues is to seek to understand how we can embody justice, equity, diversity and inclusion within our governance systems. If we want our members to actively engage in democratic member control in a co-operative movement that speaks to, and listens to, them then we should be reviewing the language we employ and processes we use to actively include the voices of our members.”

What do you hope to achieve on the Panel?

“I hope to contribute to Panel guidance materials that will encourage co-operatives of all sizes to try out sociocratic tools and methods and consider implementing them into their governance systems – boosting equal voice and active participation.”

Introducing Bob Cannell

Bob was a member of Suma workers coop for some 33 years.

Bob has spent the last 20 years as Personnel Officer, during which time the business and co-op grew steadily until sales were £60 million serviced by 200 workers of whom 150 were the voting members. Latterly Bob was a UK worker co-ops representative to the Worker Co-operatives Council, the Co-operatives UK Board and the European and Global worker co-op ICA sectoral organisations, where he enjoyed the role of Vice President Europe North!

During that time Bob was also a working director of Co-operative Business Consultants assisting some 300 cooperatives involved in academic studies of co-operatives, co-operative people organisation, cooperative governance and cooperative business management. Bob is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

Why did you want to join the Panel? 

“We have not yet worked out how to govern worker owned co-operatives in the UK properly. The old standard ways, assuming authority hierarchies and separation of governance and management, are a poor fit creating many problems and much time and resource wasting conflict.”

In your opinion, why is co-op governance so important?

“If we are to see a big growth in worker owned and controlled cooperative businesses we have to develop models of governance fit for our specific culture(s) in the reality of low or effectively no hierarchy organisations.”

What do you think is the most important issue in co-op governance today?

“The world we live in is increasingly composed of networks of individual actors needing to cooperate. Top down hierarchies do not serve us as consumers or producers in this world. What we develop or discover for worker cooperatives will serve us in those other contexts, enabling other types of cooperative enterprise to thrive better.”

What do you hope to achieve on the Panel?

“On the Panel I hope to introduce new ways of thinking about governance and management and ways of people organising together and meld those with the experiences of other panel members to push this change.”

Introducing Graeme Nuttall OBE

Graeme Nuttall OBE is a tax partner at the European law firm Fieldfisher, a trustee of the Institute For The Future of Work and non-executive Chair of ten employee trustee companies of diverse sizes, sectors and business locations, including Australia's first employee ownership trust.

He has a long standing involvement in developing and promoting ownership and governance policies in the UK and abroad, notably through the Nuttall Review of Employee Ownership. He was awarded his OBE in 2014 for services to employee ownership, employee share schemes and public service mutuals.

Why did you want to join the Panel? 

“Worker ownership is definitely taking off as a mainstream UK business model. I welcomed the opportunity to promote and develop co-operative principles and ideas as part of this phenomenon.”

In your opinion, why is co-op governance so important? 

“Co-op governance is tried and tested as a way of delivering better business and so offers a great deal to all businesses, whether or not co-operatives, that want to achieve wider corporate purposes.”

What do you think is the most important issue in co-op governance today? 

“A high level issue is promoting the co-operative difference or the added value of co-operation especially as other business models increasingly recognise many co-operative principles, such as concern for the community and the environment.”

What do you hope to achieve on the Panel?

“I aim to help the panel continue as an independent and authoritative voice for best governance practice.”

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