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Guest blog written for the SE100 Index about why co-operation is the way forward in business. 

Back in March, The Phone Co-op launched its first Pay As You Go mobile service.

There we were, in the news: “The Co-operative Mobile (we’ve been using the Co-operative national brand since 2012 as our trading name) offering UK consumers the first prepaid SIM card provided by co-operatives and social enterprises and offering one of the most competitive deals in the market, with low cost national and international rates, great coverage, and a commitment to fair and transparent pricing.”

We have to admit our new Pay As You Go service was a long awaited development. Our members and customers had been asking us for it for a while and we knew it had to be the next addition to our range of services; however, its large set-up costs and the lack of a sizeable distribution channel kept putting us off.

All this changed when another co-operative, The Co-operative Group, approached us. The Co-operative Food stores were already selling prepaid SIM cards, but there was not a co-operative alternative to the main networks on their shelves. So a question came up, should we work together to fill that gap in the market?

A year and a half on, our Pay As You Go SIM cards are now available in 3,800 stores across the country. Our initial agreement with The Co-operative Groupenabled a partnership with eleven other independent co-operative societies part of the Co-operative Retail Trading Group -such as Lincolnshire Co-operative, the Midcounties Co-operative and East of England Co-operative– which also sell our SIMs in their stores. And not only did we work with retail co-operatives, we also chose a worker co-operative, the designers Calverts, to produce the packaging and promotional materials for our new mobile service.

We wouldn’t have done it without them. After all, who best to understand your organisation’s needs than an enterprise that shares your values and principles?

Fiona and Lee, from The Phone Co-op's Products Team

Fiona and Lee, from The Phone Co-op’s Products Team

Working with other co-operatives and social enterprises is natural for The Phone Co-op; it always has been. It is part of what we believe in and is reflected on our business practice:

  • We buy from other social enterprises and co-operatives as much as possible;
  • We invest our surplus profits in organisations that put people before capital, just like we do. Community energy ventures, co-operative pubs and football clubs…;
  • We have grants to support start-ups and expanding social enterprises with their telecoms;
  • Our Affinity Partnership helps charities and NGOs to raise funds -they promote our services to their customers and get a percentage of those customers’ spend back. The Soil Association, The Big Issue and Amnesty International are amongst our 200 partners;
  • We are an active part of the co-operative and social economy movements, contributing to their national associations and educating others in how enterprises can bring about social change.

The Phone Co-op’s 15-year history has proven that working with like-minded organisations can be key to business success -opening up new opportunities, generating new sources of income, attracting new customers. However, when it comes to social enterprises the whole is definitely more than the sum of its parts. Because together we are stronger, and a solid social economy is the only way to a fairer and more sustainable future for all of us.”

Blog post written for the SE100 Index as a PR Executive of The Phone Co-op. The SE100 Index tracks the success of social businesses across the UK by examining both their growth and the way they demonstrate their impact. You can find the original article here: https://se100.net/news/together-we%E2%80%99re-stronger-power-social-enterprises

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