I wrote this a hundred years ago, just after we’d helped start giffgaff. It suddenly seems newly relevant…

Hello, I’m Glyn. I don’t actually work for giffgaff, but I’ve been working with the team for about 9 months now, helping to develop the idea, the brand, and trying to work out how to do people powered marketing.

I hope you’re enjoying the service. I’ve been dogfooding, and it’s all gone to plan so far. The SIM arrived quickly, and activated easily. I needed some new APN details to get data and MMS working on my HTC Magic, but I found those straight away on the forum and they worked. And I’ve enjoyed great service since, including streaming Spotify over 3G with all that lurvely free data.

Anyway, I’m not going to bang on about my experience. Instead I wanted to use the opportunity of Christmas to talk about something at the heart of the giffgaff idea.

The idea for giffgaff was sketched out, as all the best business ideas are, on the back of a napkin. There were eight principles (we must post these here soon), and right at the top of the list was one word: Mutuality. But was does mutuality mean in general, and what does it mean specifically to giffgaff?

Wikipedia says that:

“A mutual (organisation) exists with the purpose of raising funds from its members… which can then be used to provide common services to all members of the organization.”

Mutual organisations are built on the principle of the common good. And they include mechanics like having a say in the direction of the organisation, and earning money back.

Now, mutuality as a concept goes back a long way. I’ve worked with The Co-operative in the past, which can trace its history right back to the Rochdale Pioneers — an early mutual organisation, and the first to pay a dividend. And just the other night I was doing the traditional yearly festive viewing of It’s A Wonderful Life, with the plot centred around the Building and Loan Association — what we know in the UK as a building society, and mutually held.

For most of the last twenty years, it was easy to think that mutuality was a concept from the past. Headlines were dominated by building societies de-mutualising and becoming PLCs.

But now mutuality is resurgent. The Co-operative is growing, acquiring Somerfield. Fairtrade (global sales increased 22% in 2009) is built on grower co-operatives. People are using the co-operative way to self-organize anything from local veg. box delivery schemes to childcare. And, perhaps most excitingly of all, mutuality lies at the heart of several web 2.0 ideas.

In his book Here Comes Everybody (one of our ‘bibles’ when we were developing the giffgaff idea), Clay Shirky talks about how Flickr makes possible things that institutional companies cannot achieve. And it does this through a particularly modern form of mutuality. There is an ‘acceptable bargain’ between the members of the Flickr community — that I upload my photos and can in return use yours (with some rights reserved). And the brilliant technology takes away most of the friction in that sharing process.

That’s the kind of ‘modern mutuality’ upon which we based giffgaff. It’s not worthy or outdated. It doesn’t even require much effort. But the more you put in, the greater the reward.

Currently our mutuality is manifested in several ways:

  • You sign up to a service with people powered customer service, and in return we give you the UK’s lowest rates.
  • You help out with marketing, recruitment and service, and earn payback.
  • You help us with business decisions and, hopefully, we all have a better service as a result.

But that’s just the start. We’re constantly thinking about new ways to put mutuality at the heart of giffgaff and, as always, would welcome input from you.

Right, back to the mince pies. Have a great, and mutual, 2010.

Originally published at community.giffgaff.com on December 29, 2009.

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