A sustainable future for consumer groups

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Consumers International, the world peak body for consumer organisations has published the results of its Sustainable Business Model survey – a unique mapping of the business structures, programme effectiveness, financial performance and institutional capacity of its members – consumer organisations around the world.

This major study takes an in depth look at the sustainability of CI Members. It reveals some striking findings about the way consumer groups work and how they can become more effective.


Indrani Thuraisingham looks at how CI’s recent evaluation of its members will help us build a stronger consumer movement.

Consumers International is its members. Without them, we would not have the authority, expertise, reach or influence we can draw upon at the international level.

We would have no mandate to speak as the global voice for consumers, and no legitimacy when trying to advance consumer rights across the world.

That is why, late last year, we undertook a unique study to map the sustainability of our member organisations – to see where they are strong, where they need help, and where we can make a difference.

Today, we publish the aggregated results of this Sustainable Business Model Survey. They make fascinating reading for anyone interested in the health of the consumer movement and the sustainability of NGOs more generally.

Complex, but crucial

This was a necessarily complex survey that required a great deal of effort on behalf of the respondents. Even so, two thirds of our global membership responded to the survey, giving us an unprecedented picture of the business structure, programme effectiveness, financial performance and institutional capacity of the majority of CI’s member organisations.

With this information, we are now able to assess the relative strengths and weaknesses of business models, draw out commonalities, and bring attention to areas of risk and underdevelopment.

We have been able to grade each organisations with regards its sustainability and plan to benchmark this against their development for years to come.

Unsurprisingly, 87% of CI members who were assessed are either ‘overall sustainable’ or ‘fairly sustainable’ – an indication of the quality of management present in the consumer movement.

But we were also able to identify some runaway success stories, as well as clear areas where groups were struggling.

An array of business models

Perhaps most interestingly were the variations in the business models being applied, with some brilliant examples from every part of the world:

  • The Network Model:  where the CO establishes ‘subsidiaries’ of independent organisations that carry out specific CO functions and generate their own income (39% CI members operate are utilising  this Model)
  • The Public-Private Partnership Model: where the CO forms a symbiotic relationship with a privately owned corporation with a consumer rights interest and receives commission/ percentage in return for their role. (14% CI members operate using this Model)
  • The Service Delivery Model:  where the CO charges fees in delivering CO functions such as research , legal advice, product testing. (27% CI members operate using this Model)
  •  The Entrepreneurial Model:  where the CO establishes a “business entity” generating a market base that utilises their products and services to generate income for the CO and the shareholders of its enterprise (2% CI members operate using this Model)

Helping members to help themselves

CI will now use these survey results as a spring board for our Organisational Empowerment (OE) programme – primarily to identify the areas we can offer assistance.

This has already begun with the online launch of the CI Resource Zone: a digital library of resources, research, publications, webinars, videos, and how-to guides geared towards the consumer movement.

Users can already leave comments and provide feedback on any of the 150 or so resources currently uploaded and, over time, the Resource Zone will develop into a space where CI Members, Supporters and other partners can share their own materials.

This is a first step in helping our members to help themselves. We are already looking at more targeted assistance, based in part on the survey results, and ideas for future partnerships and collaborations.

The survey has enabled CI to generate a set of criteria to benchmark COs on their sustainability and allow CI to prioritise its OE programme based on organisational needs.

Baseline data can be used as a reference point to assess members’ progress towards achieving sustainability.

The survey can be repeated in the future to monitor progress made by members following the implementation of the OE activities.

This, however, will depend on funding as well as organisational needs and demands.

Over the last five decades, CI membership has grown from five founding organisations to over 240 consumer groups in more than 115 countries.

It is clear that if we are to continue to grow our membership in a sustainable way, we will need to give close care and attention to the structure, viability and relevance of consumer groups wishing to be part of CI.

Making sure our member organisations are fit for purpose is crucial to achieving that goal.

  1. Download the SBM survey results
  2. Read our blog commentary on the findings
  3. Browse over 150 research, policy and capacity buidling tools in the new CI Resource Zone.