What is a Cooperative?

It’s a business. It’s about working together as a team. It’s about democratic decision-making. It’s about ethical, open, and honest enterprise.

From the outside, co-operatives look just like other businesses. They offer products and services just like other forms of business enterprise do. It’s what goes on within co-operative businesses that makes co-operatives different.

Members of a co-operative society do not only derive benefit from the work produced. Co-operative members are also its owners, and so get to actively participate in the decision-making process of the co-operative. The emphasis is on the person, rather than on the financial muscle of the member. So much so that co-operative societies operate on the principle of ‘one-person-one vote’ in the strategic business decisions the co-operative makes.

Co-operatives are bound by a set of seven, internationally accepted principles, as set by the International Co-operative Alliance in 1995.  These principles arise out of the core values of co-operatives, which are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. Co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.

The co-operative model can be used in virtually all sectors of the economy. What started out in the traditional food, agriculture and fisheries sectors may now be found in the service-based economy including the engineering, renewable energy, transport, media, education, consultancy, retail, banking, insurance, health, housing and other new-wave sectors.

There are different types of co-operatives, namely worker co-operatives, producer co-operatives, financial co-operatives, consumer co-operatives, housing co-operatives, social co-operatives… a truly flexible democratic model of business.

You might not notice, but there are a good number of well-known international brands that are co-operatives.