Fifty years of friendship and finance – meet Jo White

We’ve been celebrating our fifty years of friendship and finance by talking to the people who have worked with us along the way. Today we meet Jo White, Executive Director of Co-operative Futures

‘It was about 2010 or 11 when I became ICOF Chair, and I was in that role for eight years. I’d been on the Board for a few years before – it was probably around 2003 when I first got involved, and I stood down in 2019. I’ve never been involved in an organisation that’s borrowed from ICOF, but I’ve support other organisations to borrow from ICOF.

Joining the Board was a steep learning curve, there was so much happening. It probably took me at least a year to feel I really understood everything that was going on, because there were three different, linked, companies to deal with. But once I was involved in it, and I understood what was going on, I absolutely loved it! One of the achievements that I was very proud to be involved in was the strategy to begin to do away with one of those companies, the PLC company, meaning we moved to getting investment from the movement through ICOF Community Capital. That feels more grounded in the co-operative movement than a PLC, and I’m pleased to have been part of shaping those discussions.

I love a good spreadsheet, so the number side of things always appealed, but I also loved hearing about the borrowers. ICOF gets such a range of borrowers and they were all so impressive. Some had been around for a long time and others were the new ones coming through. That diversity was really, really interesting.

One of the challenges was Ian Taylor retiring. He’d worked for ICOF for almost 30 years and while I was Chair there were many conversations about when he was going to retire. When someone has been in post for so long, that person is at the core of the organisation. There was a real concern that ICOF might lose its core ethos without Ian, that he was the central to it, and so it’s great that that didn’t happen. It’s heartening that it’s still thriving, it’s got that resilience.

There was a shift when the community pubs programme came along. This was a change from the original ICOF loans. But that’s one of the great things about ICOF – it’s been able to work with different people who, historically, may have gone elsewhere, or nowhere.  It really has been a mechanism for the co-operative movement to reach out to people that it wouldn’t traditionally have done, which I think has been a really positive thing.

One of my highlights was when I went to Blockley Community Shop in Gloucestershire. I walked in and they had this enormous great board of people who supported them throughout setting up and ICOF was right at the top! I was so proud to see that recognition in a lovely Cotswolds village where I had least expected it.

Happy birthday well done for the last 50 years. Here’s to the next!