Mike - Federation of Humanitarian Technologists

Hi all! My name is Mike Nolan, I’m a former software engineer/aid worker (previously UNICEF) and co-founder of the Federation of Humanitarian Technologists. Over the past few months, I’ve been putting together an organization creating open-source software solutions for humanitarian aid organizations. Now that some of the grant applications are coming together, I’ve been discussing with my business partner the possibility of a worker co-op. Now, I will admit, I’m no expert in worker co-ops but I’ve done some reading and I’m very much interested in pursuing this.

I hope I can also use this post to ask a few questions as well but feel free to advise if that’s not customary :slight_smile:

  1. Are there specific regulations for how co-ops must function? What is voted on by membership?
  2. Our co-op will have employees and also be serving aid organizations. The organizations are our “customer”. Should the employees be our members or the aid organizations?
  3. Our founding team is just two people but we plan to scale up fairly quickly. Is there a general weight to votes? What happens if an employee leaves?

Anyways, it’s great to meet everyone and I hope everyone is staying healthy during these times!

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https://github.com/glowkeeper/ReportAid - would that be of interest to you?

Hi and welcome. A few quick responses:

Regulations: I guess that might depend on where the co-op is domiciled. Different countries have different rules. If you are in the UK things are pretty flexible in terms of the legal structure that you might adopt, and the rules and regs tend to fall out of that in large part.

Who are the members? You could have a straightforward worker co-op where the employees are the members and co-owners/stewards of the business (you might take a co-ownership approach or a common ownership approach). You could go down a multi-stakeholder route like Webarchitects, where, customers can also become members. This would be good where you want your customers to have a real stake in the organisation and be actively involved, where a worker co-op is fully under the control of the employees.

Weight to votes? Not sure what you mean here? If you and your mate want to have control such that other employees have less of a say then I guess that’s do-able, but it’s not very democratic. The default position is one person one vote. When someone leaves they stop being an employee and therefore stop being a member. If they’ve made a financial investment then it’s up to the co-op to set the rules around how and whether that investment gets repaid (again this plays into the thing about co-ownership or common ownership). A co-ownership approach suggests that each member owns a bit of the co-op such that when they leave the co-op buys out their stake. A common ownership mindset suggests that the current members are simply stewards of the co-op and are looking after it in trust for future members, so when they leave they don’t take anything with them (but they did get paid while they were there).

Hope this helps to get you started.

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This is immensely useful! Thank you.

I suppose what I said when I brought up “weight” was that if we had members from different stakeholder groups (employees, customers/partners, donors), I suppose their input on decisions should likely be weighed differently, correct? Simply because their level of involvement and commitment to the organization would be different.

Yes this can be done, my suggestion would be to contact Alex Laurie at somerset.coop to discuss how their excellent Somerset Multi-stakeholder Co-operative Rules can be adapted for your needs.

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OK. You can do this. e.g. you could set it up such the employees had a built-in majority so that they could never be over-ridden by other members. It’s all do-able.

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Have a look at how the Ecological Land Co-operative does this.

https://ecologicalland.coop/

They have two different groups of members, the worker who are doing the job, and the investor-members, who provide the liquidity to buy the land.

Being an Investor-Member is a little like buying bonds or gilts.

You get a fixed percentage return annually, but the difference is that you can only sell your shares back to the co-operative.

They have a share offer that’s open right now. :smiley:

https://www.ethex.org.uk/elc2020 :smiley:


Their co-op’s rules can be found here, https://ecologicalland.coop/rules

And their business plan here, https://ecologicalland.coop/plan

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The Somerset Rules, as far as I understand, were originally written for the Ecological Land Co-op, Webarchitects also uses a version of these rules.

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To be clear, you can weight the categories so that the “worker” category could not be outvoted by the other categories.

As I understand it, what you can’t do is weight individual votes within a category by the amount or value of work they did. While I can understand that it wouldn’t be fair to do that for some things, I don’t fully understand why that’s not allowed for anything ever because the Co-operative Group weights some decisions by the amount or value of sales to each region or member society (or used to when I last attended their AGM).

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