2.3.3 Networks

Co-operative connections and networks are all an important part of resilience. Such networks may be with their communities, to other co-operatives providing similar products or services or those that carry out complementary activities (as in the Ugandan example), to different markets and buyers, to local authorities or government.

While relationships between members are sometimes called ‘bonding’ social capital, relationships with people and organisations in a wider network are sometimes called ‘bridging’ social capital. Again these terms are disputed but you might come across them being used in this way in your work in, or with, co-operatives.

Co-operatives may have horizontal networks with other similar co-operatives, which enable them to enhance their collective bargaining power in the market or collaborative in product and service provision (potentially also reducing costs per unit through increasing economies of scale). However, as noted in the paper by Borda-Rodriguez and Vicari (2013a), some co-operatives that are internally very cohesive may not want to bridge to co-operatives that have weaker internal ties (Simmons and Birchall, 2008).

Co-operatives may also be part of vertical structures, such as unions or federations, which are able to provide them with services they need: education and training, links to other networks, perhaps seeking funding for programmes of co-operative development, lobbying government for improved legislation, and so on.

Finally, resilience can be enhanced by the extent to which co-operatives have even wider, international networks, for example to companies or organisations that wish to buy their products or make use of their services. In addition wider networks might be useful sources of knowledge, information and training and/or promote knowledge-sharing activities.

An important aspect for any individual co-operative is to have diverse networks, as dependence on one link for, say, marketing outputs, might result in vulnerability if that link falls down or reduces its prices.

2.3.2 Collective skills

2.3.4 Innovation