Coop in focus: Rhizome

Rhizome, a coop of 9 trainers, facilitators, mediators and capacity builders working with coops, activists, campaigners and cohousers to support them to be more effective in their work for change. They have been around for four years.

Visit Rhizome’s website (opens a new window)

What were your biggest challenges on day one?

Bringing in enough work to sustain us (still a challenge), Balancing the modest income with our desire to involve more people in the coop

What or who was the biggest help?

We’re fairly DIY in our approach. Coops UK helped us with legal structures and registering the coop, but those weren’t our greatest challenges.

We chose social media (particularly a blog) as our main window on the world, and other bloggers who appreciated what we were about spread the word for us, and helped us feel part of a community.

How did you go about getting funding?

We’ve relied on paying customers so far. That’s a mixture of existing contacts, and word of mouth.

What problem is your business solving?

Poor process, decision-making, group dynamics in coops and other groups and networks

How did you find out that this problem exists?

Ha! have you ever been to a meeting of NGO types? Or grassroots activists?

There’s a lot of support for groups on funding, legal structures, finance, business planning etc, but it’s assumed that we can naturally co-operate. Our experience in coops and social movements says otherwise

Why a coop, why not a regular business?

Coop aligns with our values around participatory democracy.

What type of cooperative are you?

Coop consortium – we’re a coop of self employed folk who collaborate for mutual support, a shared brand and ethos, to do more interesting work than we do in our freelance capacities, and so on.

What is your cooperative’s income sharing structure?

It’s evolving. At the moment individual members take 80% of the fee agreed for any particular job. The 20% remains for coop development and to pay a token wage to those who put coordination time into the coop (shared according to how much work is done). We aspire to a set daily rate with any excess from fees going into a pot to subsidise the day rate for less well paid work.

What is your decision making process?

Consensus decision-making, with a lot of trust that allows individuals to make day to day decisions. We meet 2-3 times a year for ongoing developmental discussions (we’re scattered across the UK)

How quickly can you make decisions?

If we have to, people are happy for individuals/working groups to decide, which can be quick. Otherwise I’d say our decision-making is consciously glacial. We enjoy the process of coming together and taking specific decisions seems less important. We like to challenge the norm that a coop needs a detailed ‘map’ of where it’ going (which entails lots of decisions. We prefer to decide on our shared values and the other stuff falls into place.

How would you compare the individual level of autonomy as compared to a regular employment?

Quite high – as mentioned there’s high levels of trust that facilitate this.

What extra advice can you give to would be founders of coops?

Devolve responsibility asap to avoid the role of founder getting set in stone and taking on some special value and higher status. That may mean working on your own ego if in all honesty you enjoy the special status that being a founder can give you

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