The Young Co-operator’s Network (YCN) was founded in this climate out of a sense optimism and frustration. In 2015, AltGen, a worker’s co-operative that helps other young people set up co-operatives, created the Young Co-operator’s Prize in collaboration with Co-ops UK, to provide a start-up grant and twelve months mentoring support to five co-operatives working towards a new economy. The winners of this prize have come to form the founding members of the YCN.
Our objective is simple: We want to support each other, learn from each other, and inspire both ourselves and other young people. Co-operatives are in the minority and, especially when we are spread out geographically, it can feel isolating. We need to be able reach out to each other, offer our skills, advice, and knowledge to ensure we achieve the best results in our businesses.
Since the 1980s the influence and impact of centralised control provided by large-scale organisations on wider society has been in decline, particularly in the third sector. With the rise of the internet and digital communications networks, the capacity for groups of individuals to converge on a problem and solve it far outpaces that of bureaucratic hierarchical organisations.
While this is certainly true of the charitable and traditional business sectors, it would be unfair to say that of the co-operative sector. The importance of Co-operatives UK as an advocate for the sector cannot be overstated. Yet as a younger generation of co-operators with specific goals, we do not want to wait for governments and organisations to catch up to addressing our needs and aims.
The work we want to achieve we want to do ourselves, in the spirit of the co-operative self-help ethic, and the dynamic nature of this work and the scale of the problem we wish to overcome is better tackled by a network that allows us to adapt, collaborate, and support each other, especially when we are a group of geographically dispersed people.
When different groups of people get together to do something you have, in very simple terms, a social network. It could be a group of parents and teachers looking to generate links between students and adults in workplaces to create a mentorship programme; a consortium of businesses coming together to exchange ideas, practices, and strategies around a unifying purpose, such as to share best practice on sustainability and how to fortify their local economies; or a group of like-minded individuals seeking social change through creation.
In their book Connecting to Change the World, Plastrik, Taylor, and Cleveland call these types of networks generative social-impact networks; that is, networks aiming to produce on-going, adaptive action over time to solve a complex social problem, and they fall into three categories: connectivity, alignment, and production networks.
A Connectivity Network links people together, allowing them to learn from and exchange information with each other. Such networks are useful when trying to connect isolated groups or individuals, like bridging the gap between generations of an immigrant diaspora to protect their heritage, for example.
Networks can be bold in their aims; their flexibility affords them the opportunity to do so, and allows them to pool their resources to achieve them, especially in the 21st Century digital information economy. As Robin Murray and others have noted, the internet has co-operation at its heart.