Spotlight Interviews with Co-operators

Centre for Co-operative Studies: Building a solid knowledge base on the cooperative business model

“Spotlight Interviews with Co-operators” is a series of interviews with co-operators from around the world with whom ILO officials have crossed paths during the course of their work on cooperatives and the wider social and solidarity economy (SSE). On this occasion, ILO interviewed Ms Bridget Carroll, a lecturer and researcher at the Centre for Co-operative Studies in Ireland.

Article | 29 April 2019

Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

Ms Bridget Carroll
I have a BA in Public Administration and an MSc in Co-operatives and Rural Development. Professionally, I’m a lecturer and researcher at the Centre for Co-operative Studies at University College Cork, Ireland. Coming from a rural background I was aware of cooperatives and community owned enterprises but it was while completing my Masters that I really got fascinated by cooperatives. I’m currently completing a doctorate on cooperative development.

Separate but related to my work at the university, I’m the treasurer of a voluntary, member-based organization which aims to promote the development of cooperatives in Ireland. I have also acted as a supervisor in my local credit union and work with groups interested in setting up cooperatives.

What is the Centre for Co-operative Studies in Ireland?

The Centre for Co-operative Studies is a university-based research centre which has been in existence since 1980. It was established by Mr Denis I.F. Lucey, then professor of Food Economics. The mission of the Centre for Co-operative Studies is to promote the continued growth of the cooperative movement, as an effective, locally-owned and democratically-controlled sector of the economy, designed to address the urgent needs and problems of the community.

The Centre is made up of members of academic staff of the university who choose to conduct their research within the Centre. Our research covers various aspects of cooperatives. We also teach cooperative businesses on a wide range of programmes and courses and have researched, developed and delivered several programmes for cooperative practitioners over the years. We are attached to the Cork University Business School and it is great to be able to bring a cooperative and mutual business perspective to a business school.

What are current research interests and activities of you and the Centre for Co-operative Studies?

My current research explores the network aspects of cooperative development. I am also looking into the role of trade unions in worker cooperative development and the role of worker cooperatives in the continuum of firms.

While thankfully the numbers employed in Ireland have increased in recent years, there has also been a rise in non-standard jobs, temporary and insecure work, bogus self-employment and freelancing. Other significant challenges include rising income inequality and in-work poverty. We are also concerned about future impacts of workplace change on jobs, skills and wages.

All of these issues highlight the importance of worker autonomy, worker voice and worker ownership. Worker cooperatives provide one concrete tool to help address some of these issues. I recently helped organize a national seminar on this topic. The purpose of the seminar was to provide a forum for discussion, dialogue and debate about some of the issues, the opportunities, challenges and supports that might be required by worker cooperatives including the role trade unions could perform. The national seminar was supported by SIPTU, the largest trade union in Ireland.

Other recent research by Centre colleagues includes examining interest rates relating to money lending and low-income communities; cooperation among Irish beef farmers in the context of new Producer Organization (PO) legislation and the role of cooperative action on farm-level viability, sustainability and resilience. We are also involved in editing an upcoming Special Ireland edition of the Journal of Co-operative Studies.

What are challenges and opportunities for cooperative research in general and the Centre for Co-operative Studies in particular?

We really need to ensure that the cooperative model remains an accessible and relevant concept for people. There is a danger in Ireland that the model is seen by some of the older generation as being somehow unsuitable as a business model. The younger generation seems to have re-discovered the model as a viable tool for sustainable development but they face a large information gap on the topic. Research needs to help address this.

Having said that, there are loads of research opportunities in the area of cooperatives and related topics; it is a rich and rewarding field of research.

Spotlight interviews with cooperators is a series of interviews with cooperative leaders around the world, whom ILO officials have encountered in the course of their work with cooperatives. This article does not constitute an endorsement by the ILO.