The Unicorns, these cooperatives that want to change the (business) world

Last year, nine French companies with cooperative status came together to form an association, Licoornes. Your objective? Make the cooperative known as an innovative model. We explain to you.

How is a sustainable business? Some think the phrase itself is a contradiction, an oxymoron. Others have tried for years to invent companies that are guided by general interest rather than profit, and which, in essence, would rise to the challenges of the transition… Did you say utopian? I’m not sure.

Among the models examined by the researchers, there is one that has the wind in its sails: the cooperative. It’s a proven model in the agricultural sector for hundreds of years that allows farmers and breeders to share their work tools. The Biocoop brand, formed in the 1980s, has now become one of the leaders in organic and local food… And in recent years, the cooperative fever has gained a new impetus and is taking over sectors of the economy that were previously unknown.

Unicorns are rethinking the “at root” model

In France, the association Licornes has brought together nine cooperatives since 2021. The association’s objective: to popularize the cooperative principle and increase the visibility of each of them. In this club of nine, we find Label Emmaüs, the virtual store driven by the Emmaüs Movement, or Commown, which designs the greenest smartphone in the world. But also RailCoop, a cooperative rail network launched in 2021, Citiz, which offers car-sharing, or the NEF, which defines itself as an ethical bank…

All these unicorns respond to the sweet acronym of SCIC (Cooperative Society of Collective Interest), and are governed by two principles: open membership to anyone wishing to acquire a stake in the company and limited profitability (the objective is not profit, only viability). Unlike the traditional shareholder model, in these companies, one person has one vote in decision-making. And according to the Unicorns, that changes everything.

Go beyond “impact business” rhetoric

Jérôme du Boucher, secretary general of Licoornes, is convinced that the cooperative is a model for the future. For him, if you really want to be a virtuous business, you need to rethink your action at the root, and go beyond the rhetoric of “impact business”. “Take BackMarket, which refurbishes electronics. It is good to count the number of hectoliters saved per refurbished device, but that does not question the model of excessive consumption of telephones…” Jérôme believes that we cannot do without a “holistic” reflection in all sectors of the economy, in order to deal with the And this is where the cooperative becomes interesting: the whole system of corporate governance is transformed. The cooperative is a democratic model where cooperation replaces competition and where the ecological transition can find the place it deserves. It is an economic player ” what is truth in the service of the general interest. »

A contempt for startups

The name of the association was obviously not chosen at random. Unicorns, these hyper-growth start-ups valued at more than a billion dollars, are the archetype of a system that Licoornes (with two o’s for “co-op”) considers perfectly obsolete. “It’s our way of turning up our nose at this world, of showing that our cooperatives embody a counter-model. »

Since its creation in June 2021, Licoornes intrigues and interests. There is still a lot of work to be done in order for the cooperative principle to be understood by the general public, recognizes Jérôme du Boucher, but it is on the right track. Licoornes is also in the middle of a campaign to raise shares, until June 30th.

For Adrien Montagut, co-founder of Commown, one of the nine associated cooperatives in Licoornes, the constitution of the association boosted the model’s visibility. This is an opportunity to “promote this SCIC statute, which for us is a model for the future. Adrien smiles at the storm that has raged among Total shareholders in recent weeks. For him, it’s confirmation that it’s time to move on.

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