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Mutuality and Women

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The following article appears in the summer issue of The Common Good, magazine of the Christian Socialist Movement (CSM).


The ‘buzz’ of having control of your working life, making the big decisions, realising a dream, is often what drives entrepreneurs to start their own business. Women are catching on to this in increasing numbers; female-owned businesses in the UK are increasing. This growth is good for the women involved and good for the economy.


Nobody goes into business because they don’t like hard work. But working hard and having more control over your own time is a powerful combination. A number of surveys confirm that more than half of women started their business because it enables them to have control over their working hours, compared to only a third of men.  Starting your own business is a route out of inflexible and unrewarding work.


At present we have around 700,000 women-owned businesses, with a combined trading turnover of more than 130 billion. If the UK could achieve the same levels of female entrepreneurship as the United States we would gain 700,000 more businesses. Think what this would mean for wealth creation and jobs.


Why choose a mutual model?

Great ideas, combined with a desire to provide something different and better, can be realised through a number of business models. Profit is not the only motivator for people with an entrepreneurial spirit. Social enterprise, co-operative and mutual business models are people-centred, having social as well as financial ambitions a double bottom line.


Mutual organisations are keen to deliver first-class services and they have benefits which are less often found in the private sector. Amongst other things they often help to create wealth and opportunities for people who are overlooked by mainstream employers. They offer a win-win environment great for the individual, and with a socially aware business, good for communities.  


Recently I heard former President Bill Clinton speak about successful organisations and their three characteristics:

  • creating opportunities for all,
  • feelings of shared responsibilities, and
  • a sense of community

These are the characteristics found in many mutual organisations.


There are at least 55,000 social enterprises in the UK employing nearly half a million people. Although men are more likely than women to be social entrepreneurs, women are proportionately more likely to be social entrepreneurs than mainstream entrepreneurs. Interestingly, Black Africans and Black Caribbean’s are more involved in social entrepreneurial activity than their white counterparts.


Promoting New Businesses

Last year Co-operatives UK promoted the co-operative model to women. One example they offered was the Gloucestershire Country Markets Society a rural co-operative selling baked goods, jams, fruit and vegetables. The business offers income opportunities for those unable to work outside the home, or unable to work full time, like carers and people with disabilities. Importantly it’s supportive of those with little or no business experience, an example of where people who wouldn’t otherwise get the chance can do so through a co-operative enterprise.  


It can be the particular service that is being delivered that calls out for a mutual business model. Carers Direct (SW) provides care services to elderly, frail and vulnerable adults. The founding members used to work for a private sector care agency and set up the co-operative due to dissatisfaction about working and care arrangements. As providers of services the staff can ensure that the values that are important to them in their work are translated fully into the way the business is run.


My former department, Communities and Local Government, is working with Social Enterprise London to identify what support is required by ethnic minority women. Last October I launched training material specifically designed for them. Businesses led by ethnic minority women are more likely to employ other ethnic minority women helping to improve the level of economic activity of that particular group.


At present around women make up 47% of the labour market and this is growing. We need more women entrepreneurs their ideas and their energy. Many of them would find mutual business models attractive. Not least because mutuality has a clear set of values that are integral to what makes work worthwhile so while earning the wherewithal to survive there’s also something for the soul.


Meg Munn MP


Contact Co-operative UK: http://www.cooperatives-uk.coop/live/welcome.asp?id=0


Contact Social Enterprise London: http://www.sel.org.uk/


Contact CSM: www.thecommongoodmagazine.org.uk

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