What is a co-operative (co-op)?

A co-operative is a business that is owned and run by and for members, using democratic processes to give all members a say. Co-ops are generally value-driven and concerned with member livelihoods but not necessarily with profits.The

Why develop a co-operative?

Those involved in co-ops generally recognise the key values and principles agreed in the international Statement on the Co-operative Identity, Values, and Principles.

Core values:

  • self-help and self-responsibility
  • democracy and equality
  • equity and solidarity
  • honesty and openness
  • social responsibility and caring for others

Core principles:

  • Voluntary and open membership
  • Democratic member control
  • Member economic participation
  • Autonomy and independence
  • Education, training and information
  • Cooperation among co-operatives
  • Concern for community

If participatory democracy and collective action appeal to you, then you might find that co-operatives are a fitting way for you to pursue your economic goals.

How does a co-operative work?

There are many types of co-operatives:

  • worker co-operatives
  • buyer cooperatives, such as consumer co-operatives for those purchasing end-user goods and services or cooperatives for organisations (business, councils) seeking to improve their collective purchasing power
  • producer or manufacturer co-operatives
  • hybrids of the above

In general, all co-operative members have roles that combine financial and strategic governance with direct participation, for example as a grower, manufacturer, worker, or producer.

Where can I go to learn more?

  • The International Co-operative Alliance for a comprehensive introduction to formal co-operatives from the primary worldwide umbrella organisation for co-operative businesses, including these useful resources:
  • Mondrag√≥n Corporation for an example initiated in the mid-twentieth century as a network of local co-operatives oriented toward social justice and community well-being, an example that still proves inspiring to many even though the model has changed with international expansion
  • The LE Store, including resources such as Humanizing the Economy by John Restakis and Providing Clean Energy and Energy Access through Cooperatives published by the International Labour Office
  • Contact the LE team for more support

Living Economies Educational Trust (LE) promotes exchange systems and investment models that build community strength and well-being, offer interest-free alternatives to 'business as usual', and respect both people and our living planet. Our network of volunteers can recommend resources and provide educational support for community initiatives. LE (CC 38114) is a registered educational charity, and we do not provide financial or legal advice.

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