Our Director of Community and Campaigns is coming up to his first anniversary at the Co-op. He talks to Rachel Machin about how crucial the ‘four C’s’ are to our success: community, communication, co-operatives and campaigning.
I’m slightly nervous about this Co-op catch-up for a few reasons: Rufus Olins is not only a former journalist (he was an editor of the Sunday Times and Management Today) so my writing has to be totally on point or I’ll end up at the subs desk.
And there’s the other small fact that he heads up the department I work in – a department made up of four teams all with the Co-op difference right at their centre.
When doing my research on Rufus I stumbled across another Olins, a rather famous Wally Olins, who happens to be Rufus’ late father, described by many as the ‘godfather of branding’.
I ask Rufus if his father would’ve approved of his choice of business to work for. He answers: “He’d definitely have approved. He was fascinated by the wider role that business can play and the critical importance of socially responsive and responsible behaviour.’’
Rufus has spent most of his career managing complex organisations, many in the world of marketing and media. His last job was chief executive at Newsworks, a commercial and marketing organisation bringing together the £1.5 billion newspaper industry to work more collaboratively on a variety of projects. Today he’s proud to be working for our Co-op – an organisation he believes has ethics and values more relevant today than they’ve ever been.
Giving back to society has always mattered to Rufus. He’s given his time and expertise in the worlds of charity, the arts and education, but he says: ‘’It feels for the first time I can bring the values I have to work.’’ Here at the Co-op he’s recently joined the Board of Co-op Academies Trust.
“Our team’s vision is to lead and challenge our Co-op to live our Co-op difference, showing how this builds a stronger business and a better society.’’ The Co-op difference, he says, is there for all to see in our campaigning on loneliness, modern slavery, Fairtrade and, most recently, water. Rufus wants to see more people making the connection between business success and community success and for the Co-op to lead a change in the way people think about and report on business generally.
“We want our Co-op to be acknowledged as the most socially responsible business in the UK, to lead the Co-op movement internationally, and to be re-invented as a 21st century model for doing business. As Harvard professor Michael Porter says, businesses can earn the respect of society again. We can play a role in that.’’
“Of course nothing is possible unless we have a strong commercial performance. We’re a trading business and always have been. That underpins everything and so the Co-op difference needs to translate into results.
“Our Community work has already made an impact on our reputation and we’re reviewing our community strategy to make sure our Co-op continues to lead the way in communities across the UK. Our latest brand tracker, which looks at how we’re doing compared to other brands, shows we’re leading the way on supporting community with a score of 40 per cent, against the competitor average of 20 per cent.”
Local cause celebration day
The Co-op difference came to life on what many colleagues have called ‘their proudest day at the Co-op’ – the day we celebrated the £9m pay-out to local causes following the launch of membership in September last year.
We promised we’d shout louder, and we did, with media coverage above and beyond anything we got when we launched membership. We were also trending on Twitter.
“I went to the Copplehouse Lane store in Liverpool and there were five of the local causes there, building relationships and talking about what our members’ money was making possible in the community. It was a memorable day.’’
With the second round of local causes already in place and earning our 1%, and applications for the third round of causes now open, Rufus is looking forward to building on our success.
“This is just the beginning,’’ he says. ‘’Our role in community is about far more than funding causes, it’s about bringing people together and creating a collective impact. Our Co-op difference provides us with a competitive advantage and strengthens our communities. It also provides our 4.5 million members with a voice at a time when they don’t feel listened to.’’
21st century pioneers
Inspiring communities is one of the things our new army of Member Pioneers will be doing, special people who share our passion to make great things happen locally. They’ll help bring colleagues, members and local causes together and look at developing new partnerships and alliances to share our understanding of problems and how to tackle them.
“We recruited 60 Member Pioneers who came to our AGM,” explains Rufus. “By 2020 we’ll have an army of pioneers, one in every postcode in the country.’’
“Those who came to the AGM will have seen our Member Pioneer ambassador Lemn Sissay speak. He’s a performer and poet, chancellor of Manchester University. He’ll inspire our pioneers and be their public face,” he says.
The young ones
As part of wider strategy review, the team is also working on plans to inspire young people to get involved with our Co-op and tap into their energy and hope for a better way. It’s a subject Rufus is passionate about.
“We need to get our message out to young people. We need to be relevant to them and their concerns. It was fascinating to see the recent work we did in the Community report which said that young people are more likely to contribute to community than their parents or their grandparents. So the signs are there. The need is there. And affinity to our values is there. All we need to do is unlock that appetite. They’ll help turn us into a movement again.’’