Welcome to the BEDC corner; here, you will get a chance to meet the dedicated members of our team and Board. We will share our thoughts on entrepreneurship and what it means to provide support and help you build your dreams.
This month we feature Jonathan Starling, Economic & Cooperative Development Officer.
- What excites you about cooperatives?
I find cooperatives inspiring as a different way of doing business and, in so, are embryonic of a new way of life and social organization as a whole. The core values and principles of cooperatives are foundational for not just how cooperatives function, but also potentially for remaking society as a whole, not to mention the individual self. The cooperative values are self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. These translate in practice into the seven cooperative principles of voluntary and open membership, democratic member control, member economic participation, autonomy and independence, education and training, cooperation with other cooperatives and concern for community. To me, these are not simply boxes to be ticked but principles to live by in all areas of life.
Applied to the socio-economic sphere, to me cooperatives have the potential to realise a more human economy and society. The whole point of human technology and commerce was originally to serve humanity, and far too often we see this being reversed – humanity serves the almighty dollar, even if it means sacrificing our very planet, health or dignity. Cooperatives reverse this, and subordinate business to the original intention of serving humanity. To me, that is exciting and the idea of cooperatives, properly grasped and extended to all areas, is nothing short of revolutionary in scope.
- What advice would you give someone who is trying to create a cooperative?
In many ways, because of the cooperative principles and the subordination of business to serve cooperative members (albeit still focusing on making a profit, just maximizing profit isn’t the be end and end all), cooperatives can be very alien to the average person. Quite frankly, we have grown up in a hyper neoliberal capitalist society where the focus has been on ‘I’ and ‘winning’ at all costs, whereas cooperatives flip the script to ‘we’ and achieving win-win outcomes that benefit not just the cooperative itself, but also the wider community. That, perhaps, is the largest obstacle to overcome, the mental revolution away from ‘I’ and towards the ‘we’.
However, once you have that, once you have a cooperative mentality in place, cooperatives themselves are not that hard. Yes, it takes more work to participate in a democracy than simply taking or giving orders in a dictatorship, however in doing so you gain more dignity and become a more well-rounded human, as opposed to a one-dimensional being.
So, yes, there’s work to it. However the key thing is to really grasp the essence of cooperativism and have that revolution of the mind first.
- What is your role at BEDC?
I am the Economic & Cooperative Development Officer at BEDC. In that role, I work primarily on cooperatives – education, awareness raising, advising and assisting people wanting to create cooperatives or existing cooperatives, and working on policy areas to benefit and support cooperatives.
- What is the best part about being a member of the BEDC team?
The work culture at BEDC is fantastic. While we do have a hierarchy, we’re actually rather democratic in practice, with a lot of transparency and the staff are consulted and involved in decision-making, albeit with key decisions of course within the remit of the Board and the Minister. All the same, you know that your feedback matters and is wanted. Similarly, everyone is there to help each other – I know I can count on my colleagues for help and advice at all times, we’re very supportive of each other.
- What role do cooperatives play in Bermuda’s future?
I think it has the potential to revolutionise the island as a whole, socially, economically and democratically. Perhaps I’m overly idealist there, however I really do see the potential for cooperatives to continue to grow and have an impact far beyond the purely economic sphere of day-to-day cooperative business. Cooperatives are not simply a way of doing business, they are a way of life. They have the potential to change your perception on all things.
- What trends have you noticed emerging within Bermuda’s cooperative landscape?
You know, despite the Bermuda Credit Union, cooperatives have been largely absent from the Bermudian landscape for some time. And there’s various historical reasons for that. However, the support of the Government for the concept has been really beneficial. We’re raising awareness and the creation of Cooperative Legislation by November 2023 marks a sea-change. We expect that now we’ve reached a critical point of qualitative change in the history of cooperatives in Bermuda, and we expect the growth to be exponential now.