Social entrepreneurship and the co-operative ethos

A social entrepreneur who sets up a business tends to be someone who is a go-getter. Passionate, angry maybe, self-confident, even arrogant, and impatient. Wanting to right a wrong, meet a need, using strength of personality and inter-personal skills to take at least some people along with her or him. But essentially this person is a driven individual - not a team player.


How does the individualistic style of the social entrepreneur sit alongside the inclusive, co-operative ethos of most social enterprises? The co-operative movement, creators of the first social enterprises 165 years ago, enshrines co-operative principles in the legal structures of their businesses. They organise from the bottom up, empowering workers, consumers, or both. Equality is their watchword.


All three major political parties espouse a world in which co-operatives and other mutuals could be providing all sorts of public services - in additional to their more traditional retailing, financial and funeral services. Even allowing for the most empowering credentials of the co-operative movement, will it be able to rise to the challenge without the energy and drive of individual entrepreneurs?  2012 is the International Year of Co-operatives, so maybe we'll know more in 12 months time.