I have always been fascinated by the idea of member-owned, as opposed to investor-owned, businesses. It seems to me that the co-operative business model is a serious alternative to corporate capitalism. My first two books were on small co-operative stores and co-operative housing. Then I wrote histories of the co-operative movement in Britain and internationally (published also in Japanese and Korean). My recent book, People-centred Businesses, is the culmination of this work as it provides a comprehensive analysis of all the main types of consumer and producer owned businesses. With the help of a Leverhulme Fellowship for 2012, I wrote a book on ‘customer-owned banks’, demonstrating that wherever they are sizeable they have stabilized the banking sector and provided a more sustainable economy. I followed this up with a report to the International Labour Organisation on sustainable banking, Resilience in a Downturn: the Power of Financial Cooperatives. In the recent REF exercise, three of my four publications were rated world class, and one internationally excellent.
Between 2000 and 2006, Richard Simmons and I had a long (mainly ESRC funded), research programme in which we developed and field-tested a ‘mutual incentives theory' of participation in relation to co-operative membership and user involvement in public service delivery. We also explored the potential of co-operatives for poverty reduction in low-income countries, with case studies in Sri Lanka and Tanzania. In parallel with this research, I wrote a series of reports for UN agencies on the co-operative potential, which were translated into several languages. In the recent REF exercise, the impact of this series of projects and publications was rated ‘world class’.
Not surprisingly, I have had a longstanding interest in the governance of member-owned businesses. I have been a member of UK government advisory groups on the governance of foundation trusts and mutual insurance companies, and have recently worked with Co-operatives UK on alternative governance structures for the Co-operative Group. My most recent report is on the governance of the world’s 60 largest co-operatives.