“Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures, the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind …” – the infamous words of Michael Douglas's character, Gordon Gekko, in the 1980s Hollywood movie Wall Street.
Can cooperation be good for prosperity? More than this, can it offer a new comparative advantage that boosts economic competitiveness whilst simultaneously benefits society? Perhaps.
According to the World Economic Forum, co-operative innovation will account for over a quarter of the total revenues of Europe’s largest businesses by 2030.
An example of this co-operative phenomenon is around Bologna, Italy, and the surrounding Emilia Romagna province. The area has the highest density of co-operatives in Europe (8000, ranging from welfare to the arts), generating close to 40% of GDP. This has brought about high levels of entrepreneurship, with networks of businesses producing high quality products. There are highly integrated networks of economic co-operation across sectors, operating both vertically (such as around supply chains or finance) and horizontally (such as around peer-to-peer learning or product development). Crucially, Emilia Romagna is also the region of Europe with the lowest social-economic inequality between the rich and the poor.
In an innovation economy, where knowledge is the new currency, businesses must co-operate to compete argues a new multi-authored book edited by Ed Mayo. The Co-operative Advantage outlines 50 co-operative innovations to boost the economy, ranging from banking, creative industries and energy to education, health and transport. Based on three years of research with co-operative business experts, The Co-operative Advantage analyses growth sectors around which the co-operative model has an edge and a fit that offers a competitive advantage. This advantage, say the authors, is realised by giving the people involved in a business – the employees, the customers, the suppliers – a stake in it. Their participation has a triple effect in terms of productivity, innovation and entrepreneurship.
A wonderful example of an alignment of cooperation with emergent technology and markets is in the form of data cooperatives. Take for instance, the Swiss Health Bank. It has developed as a co-operative model for pooling personal health data, which is better quality, with the input and consent of those involved, and can be used across service providers. This enables consumers to take back control of their personal data. Mydex was founded by a successful entrepreneur, William Heath, with a big idea that rather than businesses collecting, analysing, warehousing and using personal information on consumers, consumers could instead own their personal information. The great benefit, using data that can be passported across service providers, was conceived to be that the results could be more accepted, more revealing or intimate and more likely to be accurate.
In short – if ‘green is the new black’, then ‘cooperation is the new greed’ – it is good because it can be both spur economic prosperity and stronger corporate responsibility.