Co-ops and mutuals are outliers in an era of declining trust

09 March 2020

Australians are growing increasingly wary of government and businesses, fewer people than ever believe that their families will be better off in five years’ time, and 56 per cent of Australians feel that the system is failing them.

These are just some of the findings from the Edelman Trust Barometer 2020, which measures social trust in government, business, NGOs and media.

But what’s missing from this picture is a sector doing things differently.

The co-operative and mutuals sector is hiding in plain sight

CMEs cannot use the Barometer to understand the levels of confidence that consumers place in them.

However, the Barometer makes an excellent case for a business model where consumers come first, where profits are not the be-all-and-end-all, and values such as integrity and sustainability are a core part of doing business.

The co-operative and mutual business model, in other words.

Australians are looking for an alternative way of doing business

The Barometer shows that Australians believe that both businesses and government are serving the interests of the few rather than serving the needs of everyone equally and fairly.

Australians also rate ethical drivers of integrity, dependability and purpose over competence, indicating an increasing demand for businesses that are value-centered.

At BCCM’s 2019 Leaders’ Summit, Dr Elena Limnios spoke about how ethical drivers are of increasing importance for workers:

“More than ever before, employees want to work for organisations that can be trusted to contribute to a higher purpose.”

Australians’ values are aligned with CMEs

Edelman describes the 2020 Barometer as “a wake-up call for our institutions to embrace a new way of effectively building trust: balancing competence with ethical behaviour.”

This is something that CMEs have know for decades.

Our customers agree: 70 per cent of Australians believe that it is possible for a company to take actions that both increase profits and improve conditions in communities where it operates.

Australians’ values are aligned with the CME model

In 2017, Essential Research survey data revealed the strong alignment of Australian consumers’ values with the values that are at the core of the co-operative and mutual model.

The survey shows that Australians have ongoing distrust in the for-profit model, and the majority feel that corporations are too focused on their profits at the expense of their customers.

The major barrier for CMEs is not lack of trust, but rather lack of awareness. Most Australians don’t know whether they are a member of a co-op or mutual, despite almost half belonging to two or more CMEs.

This indicates that co-operatives and mutuals need to do more to raise the profile of the sector, emphasising points of difference and the people-centred model.

Measuring value

As values-based businesses, the greatest challenge for co-operatives and mutuals remains how to articulate our values.

This is why BCCM, working with Monash University, has developed the Mutual Value Measurement (MVM)© model. MVM is a framework to allow CMEs measure their total value creation (mutual value) through a set of common dimensions and shared language.

As we grow MVM to become a sector standard, co-operatives and mutuals will be able to inform customers more effectively about the points of difference with the CME model. MVM will also serve to protect the sector against the appropriation of values-based language used by corporates in PR and marketing material (think vague, feel-good claims about sustainability and social impact that go unmeasured and unproven).

Australians are crying out for a more ethical and co-operative way of doing business. Our job now is to remind them that we’re here.

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