I see that the Phone Co-op managed a 21% member turnout in the latest board elections (2,100 ballots returned, out of 10,000 mailed out). In an ideal world, every member of every coop would of course vote in every election. In an unideal world, such as the one we live in, 21% turnout strikes me as not at all bad.
In the past few days I have exercised my member’s right to vote for board members of both Leeds Building Society and MEC, the Canadian outdoor equipment cooperative retailer (if you’re asking, I’ve been a MEC customer a number of times while visiting Canada).
Leeds Building Society offers the usual unsatisfactory British building society experience of having uncontested Board elections. MEC by contrast has a lively democracy: ten candidates for three board places. Admittedly only a small percentage of the membership tends to vote (last year 47,000 members voted out of several million), but I reckon it’s a cooperative member’s responsibility to do so… even if I do live several thousand miles from MEC’s head office. I hope I’ve voted for candidates who will help MEC continue to thrive.
An interesting response has just come through from Dave Boyle, which you’ll find if you click through on ‘comments’. In the example he mentions, I think I’d have been one of the coop members who were arguing for a 5% minimum quorum being sufficient.
More broadly I share Dave’s views on the need to discuss new forms of governance for coops. We don’t all do traditional meetings. Activist capture, it could perhaps be argued, may be as problematic for cooperative concepts of democracy as management capture.
A ballot paper arrives: there are seven members standing for three places on the Board of Directors of the Phone Co-op. Good cooperative corporate governance requires among other things active member democracy, and the Phone Co-op almost always obliges in this respect.
(Yes, all right, six of the seven are men, and better gender balance would be helpful. But just at the moment I want to focus on good things happening in the cooperative sector).