Co-operative decade ahead for new UWA research unit

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The newly formed Co-operative Enterprise Research Unit (CERU) at The University of Western Australia Business School will assist co-operative enterprises in Australia and worldwide realise their social and economic potential during the Co-operative Decade.

The Co-operative Decade, an initiative of International Co-operatives Alliance, recognises the more than one billion individual members of co-operative enterprises spread across 94 countries.

At UWA, CERU researchers will undertake a national industry benchmarking study in conjunction with Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals, the University of Sydney and the International Co-operatives Alliance.  The project aims to progressively map the size and structure of the sector, and its economic and social contribution to the national economy.

CERU Director Winthrop Professor Tim Mazzarol said the study will assist in addressing high unemployment levels in many countries.

"The impact of the Global Financial Crisis has meant that unemployment levels in many countries are too high and there is no evidence that conventional large businesses or government are going to take sustainable action to alleviate this," Winthrop Professor Mazzarol said.

"Further, there is a growing gap between the rural and regional communities and the urban populations around the world.  This is as true here in Australia as it is in many developing economies.

"Co-operatives and mutual enterprises have a long history of successfully helping communities develop self-sustaining economic and social outcomes.

"Co-operative and mutual enterprises are community owned and rather than pay out big returns to a few, they seek to return any surpluses either back to their member owners, or to reinvest in the business to help offer better products and services to their members.  Such businesses are potentially more sustainable and this has been shown in the aftermath of the GFC."

CERU researchers are currently completing a study examining the co-operative enterprise business model.  Resulting in two books and a series of journal articles, conference, discussion papers and industry reports, the research found that sustainability in the co-operative business model depends on good governance, a clearly defined purpose and a recognition of the nature of member-owned business as distinctly different from their investor-owned counterparts.

In coming months, the CERU is planning to launch an Executive Leadership Program for Co-operatives and Mutuals, delivered in conjunction with the Australian Institute of Management WA.  Additionally, the CERU is hoping to work with UWA's Institute of Agriculture to enhance rural farming communities in Western Australia and South-East Asia using co-operative enterprise principles.

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