The Cooperative Difference

11189443_814417598595170_1729605750_nA Cooperative is a business that is created and owned by the people who use its goods and services. Co-ops are unique because its members are the owners. Member-owners not only get the products and services they need, but also have a say in the business decisions of the co-operative.

The roots of the modern Cooperative business movement date back to England in the mid-1840’s. The Industrial Revolution brought about a mass centralization and mechanization of the work force that greatly reduced the control that most people had over their economic, political and social life. Access to high quality food and essential goods were out of many people’s reach. As a result, in 1844, a group of 28 weavers and artisans, formed the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers and opened what was to become the first successful cooperative store, selling the high quality, unadulterated goods they couldn’t afford otherwise.

Today, Co-ops form for similar reasons. They provide needed goods and services at affordable prices and acceptable quality when the conventional marketplace fails to do so. Co-ops are also formed to foster the ideals of empowerment, tolerance, collaboration and fairness within the workplace, marketplace and community at large.

Cooperatives measure their success using a Triple Bottom Line. This means they focus on the social and environmental impact the Co-op makes as well as on their financial performance. With an estimated 1 billion member-owners currently worldwide, creating over 250 million jobs around the world, Co-ops are a vital economic and social force, impacting both their local and the global economy.

The 7 Cooperative Principles

All Co-ops follow the 7 Co-operative Principles, which are based on the original principles established by the Rochdale pioneers in the 1840’s. So, whatever the business, whether it is a natural food grocery store in Ithaca, a local utility company in the Midwest, or a coffee plantation in Guatemala, all Co-ops use these principles to guide their decisions and operations, and put their values into practice.

  1. Voluntary and Open Membership – Co-operatives are voluntary organizations open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibility of membership without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.
  2. Democratic Member Control — Co-operatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions. Those serving as elected representatives are accountable to the membership.
  3. Member Economic Participation — Members contribute equitably to and democratically control the capital of their co-operative.
  4. Autonomy and Independence — Co-operatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If co-operatives enter into agreements with other organizations, or raise capital from external
    sources, they do so in ways to ensure democratic control by the members and maintain their co-operative independence.
  5. Education, Training and Information — Co-operatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperatives.
  6. Co-operation Among Co-operatives — Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, regional, national and international structures.
  7. Concern for Community — While focusing on member needs, co-operatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies accepted by their members.

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