50 years of friendship and finance – meet Dame Pauline Green

Through this, our fiftieth year, we’re delighted to be talking to some of the incredible people who have worked with us along the way – borrowers, supporters, investors, partners, Trustees, and staff.

Today, we introduce Dame Pauline Green

‘I have known ICOF for some time, but then I’ve been a co-operator for a very long time!

I think it was 1996/7 when I was elected as President of the worker co-op federation ICOM – The Industrial Common Ownership Movement, this was the first time that I really got to know not just ICOM but ICOF. At the time I was a Co-operative  MEP and Leader of the Socialist Group in the European Parliament.

In 2000 I was proud to become first female CEO of the Cooperative Union (now Co-operatives UK) a post I held until until 2009, and from 2002 to 2009 I was also President of ICA Europe. From 2009 to 2015, I was President of the global International Cooperative Alliance – you cannot be from the British co-op movement with that sort of background in global co-operation, and not know ICOF!

You also cannot work with co-ops around the world without being aware that one of the key issues for co-ops in all sectors of the global economy was – and still is – development finance. This is a perennial problem for coops all over the world. As a result of their democratic ownership structure, and their commitment to ‘meet the needs of their members’ co-operatives are not, of course, traded on the stock market, so development capital is hard to access. They have to borrow or they have to get it from member funds which is not always easy, particularly for start ups and for multi million pound businesses whose development needs can be very significant. ICOF was very important to me because it was really my first experience of a facility that made it possible for coops to attract supportive and ethical capital in line with the values of the movement. I remember Ian Taylor very fondly – a very intelligent, articulate, and terrific co-operator, who knew how to make the case and argue for the finance for coops, in a way that was safe for them and for ICOF.

ICOF gave me inspiration when I went on to be the CEO of Co-operatives UK and we saw the growth of cooperation in different sectors of the economy. There was a big drive for new rural coops, for village shops, pubs, a range of secondary and health co-ops. All these thing came out of a very intensive period of evolution for the coop movement and the need for capital was always an essential element of driving coops forward.

Later, as President of the International Cooperative Alliance, again I saw that the biggest issue holding back co-operatives from having a greater share of the global economy, was the lack of access to development capital. Because of the good grounding ICOF had given me, exploring ways of raising co-operative capital whilst protecting member ownership was vital when we drew up the strategy for the global movement called ‘A Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade’.  That strategy established a blue ribbon capital commission to find ways to source development capital for coops.

I’ve been a co-operator for a long time and even though I’m now retired, I am working with a group of others on a new fintech coop which is all about trying to enfranchise people to invest in co-operatives carefully and sensitively whilst respecting the principles and values of our movement. All my knowledge about coops and finance stems from the first meeting I had with Ian and ICOF – it gave me a lifelong interest in how to find capital for coops while truly recognising the values and structures that make them different.

Happy birthday to ICOF! You will never quite understand how much influence you have had on those of us who want to build coop development capital in a way that sits right with the values and purpose of coops. You’ve been an inspiration to me in dealing with these issues around the world, happy birthday!’