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Prof Johnston Birchall
Colin Bell Building, University of Stirling
Johnston Birchall studied at Oxford and then spent five years as a housing association manager before returning to academic life with an MA in Social Policy and a PhD at York University. He began his academic career as a researcher at the Institute of Community Studies in London, then taught at South Bank and Brunel universities before coming to Stirling in 1999. His focus has been on the subject of co-operation, more specifically in member-owned businesses (cooperatives, mutuals, and user-controlled public service agencies). Johnston has written 10 books (with translations into nine other languages), his latest being People-centred Businesses: Co-operatives, Mutuals and the Idea of Membership (Macmillan, 2011), and Finance in an Age of Austerity: the Power of Customer-owned Banks (Edward Elgar, 2013).
I have always been fascinated by the idea of member-owned, as opposed to investor-owned, businesses. It seems to me that the co-operative business model is a serious alternative to corporate capitalism. My first two books were on small co-operative stores and co-operative housing. Then I wrote histories of the co-operative movement in Britain and internationally (published also in Japanese and Korean). My recent book, People-centred Businesses, is the culmination of this work as it provides a comprehensive analysis of all the main types of consumer and producer owned businesses. With the help of a Leverhulme Fellowship for 2012, I wrote a book on ‘customer-owned banks’, demonstrating that wherever they are sizeable they have stabilized the banking sector and provided a more sustainable economy. I followed this up with a report to the International Labour Organisation on sustainable banking, Resilience in a Downturn: the Power of Financial Cooperatives. In the recent REF exercise, three of my four publications were rated world class, and one internationally excellent.
Between 2000 and 2006, Richard Simmons and I had a long (mainly ESRC funded), research programme in which we developed and field-tested a ‘mutual incentives theory' of participation in relation to co-operative membership and user involvement in public service delivery. We also explored the potential of co-operatives for poverty reduction in low-income countries, with case studies in Sri Lanka and Tanzania. In parallel with this research, I wrote a series of reports for UN agencies on the co-operative potential, which were translated into several languages. In the recent REF exercise, the impact of this series of projects and publications was rated ‘world class’.
Not surprisingly, I have had a longstanding interest in the governance of member-owned businesses. I have been a member of UK government advisory groups on the governance of foundation trusts and mutual insurance companies, and have recently worked with Co-operatives UK on alternative governance structures for the Co-operative Group. My most recent report is on the governance of the world’s 60 largest co-operatives.
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