The last time I saw Robin was just after I had taken up the position of CEO of the Young Foundation and we had lunch in the Old Ford Deli. He was quite shaky on his pins as he put it, but his mind, with, generosity and everything else was totally there and as ever sparkling like mad. He gave me some very wise advice about how to help the organisation, and told me it would take two years and he was of course quite correct.
I first met Robin in the early 1980s, he was Director of Industry for the Greater London Council (GLC) and was emerging as one of the people whose radical economic views contributed its fame and infamy of the time – I am happy to say. I loved him and his ideas, his energy and his imagination, his kindness, and sharpness, his innovation and his writing like a dream, then and forever.
He co-authored ‘The Open Book of Social Innovation‘ which was a seminal work at the time, and still stands the test of time. In fact, only a few weeks ago we were approached by social innovators in Vietnam who asked to republish it in Vietnamese. Robin would have loved that. We have Robin’s contribution woven through our work for many years. There he is, named on the TEPSIE contract in 2012, and making a presentation with Geoff Mulgan in Lisbon in 2009 on ‘The Social Economy and the Crisis’. We recently sent him our latest research into the MONDRAGON Co-operative movement which looks at it as a social innovation ecosystem. I knew he would see this as evidence of YF punching its weight.
Robin was by trade an industrial and environmental economist. Post GLC and being Director of Development in the Government of Ontario in the 1990s, Robin focused on new waste and energy systems and on projects in the social economy. He was the co-founder, and later chair, of Twin Trading the fair trade company and was closely involved in the companies it spun off, including Cafedirect, Divine Chocolate, Liberation Nuts and Agrofair UK. He was hugely proud of them and, as with everything, took every opportunity to promote their interests. Robin has alternated working for innovative economic programmes in local, regional and national governments, with academic teaching and writing, as well as working with Geoff Mulgan and colleagues here, at The Young Foundation, to get our newly formed organisation up and running after Michael’s death.
And there is much, much more. Robin has been one of the UK’s leading radical economists for many years. He was an expert on co-operatives, social enterprise and institutional and technological innovation. And working for the GLC during the period in which it was led by Ken Livingstone enacting one of the most radical progressive programmes of any major governmental body in British history, he was directly influenced to write two celebrated articles for the British monthly Marxism Today on the subject of emergent ‘post-Fordism’ in the second half of the 1980s. These two essays were probably some of the most influential that they have ever produced. ‘After Henry’ and ‘Benetton Britain’ were key in introducing the concept of post-Fordism to the wider left in the UK.
New Labour would later take up the idea of post-Fordism as dictating a narrowly individualist culture and an approach to economic management and public service reform which was wholly informed by neoliberal ideology. But this was never Robin’s conclusion. Instead, he has argued consistently that the new technological and organisational forms of contemporary production are adaptable to classic democratic socialist objectives, and facilitate collaborative creativity, democratic self-management and co-operative production.
So we have lost a diamond geezer, and for The Young Foundation, one of our most honoured colleagues and Senior Fellows. I personally have lost a dear and beloved friend, and neighbour when I lived in Hackney. To Frances, Robin’s wife, a gifted artist and thoroughly lovely person The Young Foundation sends love and best wishes. The Young Foundation family and friends are very much saddened and will miss Robin Murray very much.