A “cooperative” of Social Enterprises

The exciting world of Social Enterprises and its Social Entrepreneurs, is a flourishing world, fired by the drive and enthusiasm and ideas and innovation of its many participants. However at Capacity International we believe that many old organizational ways of doing things could successfully support and nurture the people and organisations in this sector.

A “cooperative” of Social Enterprises
Key words – Social Enterprise, Social Entrepreneurs, Strategic Alliance, Associateships, Cooperatives, Social Procurement

Cooperation is an anathema to the personal ego and organizational culture of many. I do not want to share; wealth, status, ideas, anything. So why share? In a situation where the benefit outweighs the negative effects.
Is it the best of both worlds? Can I achieve the individual satisfaction of having succeeded or as an organisation be sustainable by cooperating with others? Not quite but almost.

More Effective

Strategic Alliance – how I can increase reach or penetration, turnover, by working in conjunction with others by the marriage of a range of skills or simply by being bigger.

An associated group may be able to tender for a government contract, simply by competing on scale. Alternatively by combining with another organisation(s) the totality of organizational capability (e.g. skills, intellectual property) of the group can take on an opportunity that individually could not be contemplated.

More Efficient

Operationally – as an associated group we can “muscle up” on cost reductions in a number of areas – supply, logistics or sharing services. (It would be often the case where social procurement is also utilized e.g. utilizing underprivileged local workers, however it can involve a for profit commercial business.)


  • Third sector based restaurants/cafes can cooperate to purchase foodstuffs/coffee
  • Transport or storage facilities can be shared
  • Accountancy advice can be shared
How to source potential partners? – Capacity International

Potential downsides

Loss of control – I now have ceded control of part of my business to others or have to consult with them to make decisions.
Identity – who are you? To some you are no longer CEO of ABC Social Enterprise, you are ABC as a member of an associate group.
The members of the cooperative damage my reputation, steal my business or intellectual property – One of the members or associates conducts themselves in an unethical way, fraudulently poaches my clients or utilizes my intellectual property.


Managing these downsides

Loss of control
– establishing a policy (who has control over what), legal (a contract) and procedural protection (how the policy and legal form play out on a day to day basis), all in a documented form. These can be additional contracts for particular aspects, policy documents, memorandums of understanding and included in procedural manuals.

Loss of identity
– This is more difficult to secure. Often it can be a personal consideration, someone in a stronger position takes over. This may be even on the basis of a more dominant personality. So what level of loss am I prepared to put up with? Is the loss damaging me personally, my organisation or both?

Damage to me or my organisation
(The damage can be legal, financial or moral).- Due diligence is a key element. Ongoing review –

Reviewing the cooperative associates – Capacity International

What do we suggest?
Carefully managed associateships or cooperatives can achieve multiple benefits for the good of individual organisations, the pitfalls are manageable; the benefits can fast track success.

Take the opportunity to discuss with Capacity International how working with other Social Enterprises and Entrepreneurs or indeed other organisations can help you have a greater social impact.