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Measuring mutual value

Melina Morrison headshot - for blogs

by Melina Morrison, CEO at ICMIF member the Business Council of Cooperatives and Mutuals (BCCM, Australia), Dr Paul Thambar, Senior Lecturer, Department of Accounting, Monash Business School (Australia) and Linda Bostock, CEO and Company Director, StateCover Mutual (Australia)

8 December 2021

Our latest guest blog was written by Melina Morrison, CEO at ICMIF member the Business Council of Cooperatives and Mutuals (BCCM, Australia); Dr Paul Thambar, Senior Lecturer, Department of Accounting, Monash Business School (Australia); and Linda Bostock, CEO and Company Director, StateCover Mutual (Australia). The article is shared here with the kind permission of Melina, Paul and Linda.

An innovative approach to measuring the total value mutuals create developed by the cooperative and mutual sector in Australia offers a potential solution to the problem of mutual value measurement the world over.

Measuring and communicating the total value that a cooperative and mutual enterprise (CME) creates has long been a challenging task as financial numbers (eg profit) rarely capture the complete value. Melina Morrison, CEO of the peak body for CMEs in Australia, ICMIF member the Business Council of Cooperatives and Mutuals (BCCM), knows this challenge well. According to Melina, ‘…as values-based businesses with a commercial mindset and a social corporate purpose, our CMEs want to measure their mutual value, their impact on members, community and all stakeholders but we have not found a performance measurement framework that allows us to do this’.

The challenge of developing a consistent approach to measuring mutual value led Melina and the BCCM to engage with accounting researchers from one of Australia’s leading research focused business schools, Melbourne-based Monash Business School.

Linda Bostock, CEO of Sydney-based StateCover Mutual, a member of ICMIF (providing workers compensation insurance for local government councils in NSW, Australia) adds, ‘… we were exploring different options for measuring and communicating our value to our members and other stakeholders and had reached a point where we just couldn’t find a useful framework. The BCCM had just partnered with the Monash Business School to carry out an innovative research study to develop our own framework for the industry and I was invited to meet with Dr Paul Thambar (the lead researcher for Mutual Value Measurement). This was the beginning of a journey of discovery into the value that mutuals create…’.

Over a two year period (2018-2019), a team of researchers, Dr Paul Thambar and Professor Matthew Hall (Monash Business School), along with colleagues Professor Yuval Millo, (Warwick Business School, UK) and Dr Sarah Adams (Australian National University) collaborated with the BCCM, StateCover Mutual and twelve other cooperative and mutual enterprises (CMEs) to design and develop the Mutual Value Measurement framework. This ground-breaking measurement framework, known as MVM, enables any CME to measure the whole value of what they do and communicate it to the broader community, including members, potential new members and financial markets.

MVM is purposefully designed as a generic framework that can be customised by a cooperative or mutual to its local operating environment. The core of the framework are six key value drivers that the researchers found were common across an otherwise diverse sector of businesses. “These six dimensions, as we call them, came out of what we saw and what people told us. They provide for the first time a common language about value creation for the sector and for understanding these businesses from the outside,” says Professor Hall.

In summary the six dimensions are: Commerciality – generating sustainable economic value for current and future members; Shaping Markets – creating and sustaining competitive markets; Member Relationships; Community Relationships; Ecosystem and Reciprocity – recognising that stakeholders are part of the same mutually beneficial community; and finally, the Mutual Mindset – committing to acting ethically and sustainably. About 30 cooperatives and mutuals are now in the process of adopting the framework and the BCCM is hoping that more CMEs will sign up.

Dr Thambar and Professor Hall are running leadership team presentations, webinars, masterclasses and community of practice workshops on the framework, and with the BCCM they have developed and implemented an accreditation scheme which assesses and certifies the MVM implementation undertaken by a CME. The accreditation badge granted by BCCM will signify that the CME is carrying out mutual value measurement in line with the requirements of the MVM. Dr Thambar likens Mutual Value Measurement accreditation to similar global benchmarks (eg B-corp) but the key difference is that the MVM is unique to the mutual sector. “Accreditation is a way to promote the framework as best practice, build momentum, and to ensure CMEs are using it properly,” says Dr Thambar.

In follow up work with StateCover Mutual and three other early adopter CMEs, Dr Thambar and Professor Hall have found that the use of the framework has had benefits in three areas: helping to shape purpose and strategy, to engage and communicate value to members and to engage staff and gain their alignment with purpose.

As Linda explained, ‘we took the framework to our senior leadership team and to our Board to make them understand the different elements, specifically, the six mutual value dimensions. We then used these dimensions to review and refresh our strategy and to understand how we as a CME created value and how we could measure this value’.

Following the refresh of strategy and identification of their value creation process, Linda said, ‘we embedded the MVM Framework in our corporate performance measurement and reporting dashboard’. StateCover disaggregated the framework by dimension and business unit and allocated responsibilities for value creation activities, performance metrics and targets to senior executives. StateCover is now developing data and support processes for measuring their mutual value using the MVM framework. As Linda says, ‘…we are on a journey to measuring our mutual value. For the first time in our history, I can say to my stakeholders, we have a purpose, we are creating value for you and we can now measure and report on this value to you’.

MVM provides CMEs with the capability of measuring and communicating information relating to environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues. Importantly, the MVM provides a strong focus on measurement of social and governance related issues which are not well covered by other frameworks (eg integrated reporting) which tend to focus more on environmental issues. The BCCM is embarking on an advocacy project with a select group of CMEs in 2022 to further assess and understand the policy and reporting implications of ESG for cooperatives and mutuals and as part of this project, Dr Thambar and Professor Hall will further develop the MVM to provide ‘a bridge’ to ESG measurement and reporting.

MVM provides CMEs with a proven and tailored approach to measuring and communicating the value they create for members and the community by identifying and capturing all areas of value which cannot be done by financial numbers alone.

“The challenge for cooperatives and mutuals is that they can’t be understood through their profitability because maximising profits isn’t their purpose, their purpose is to maximise benefits to their members,” says Dr Thambar. “That may not have been a problem in the past but in the last few decades while the sector has just chugged along, competition from big corporations has grown. And now when there is growing interest in new “purpose-driven” organisations that invest profits in causes, the value of these original “purpose-driven” organisations aren’t being recognised.”

MVM can provide members of ICMIF an approach to measuring their mutual value. ICMIF, the BCCM and Monash Business School are planning a free MVM webinar in early March 2022 for members. Members interested in examining the MVM in greater detail, can contact ICMIF (Ben Telfer) who can facilitate introductions to BCCM and Monash Business School or they can visit the bespoke website for MVM for more information (www.mvm.coop).

For member-only strategic content on the cooperative/mutual insurance sector, ICMIF members have exclusive access to a range of online resources through the ICMIF Knowledge Hub 

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