Today is a celebration of co-operative enterprises around the world, which achieve sustainable development for all. It is the 20th UN International day of Co-operatives and the 92nd Alliance International Co-operative Day.
This is a great moment to celebrate what unites us as co-operatives and to reflect on all that we contribute to our communities and societies. The International Labor Organization defines a co-operative as an "autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise."
So, you ask… what does this really mean?
All co-operatives, big and small, around the world, share a co-operative identity premised upon shared values and seven basic principles, detailed below:
Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.
1. Voluntary and Open Membership
All Welcome – no pressure
Co-operatives are voluntary organizations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political, or religious discrimination.
2. Democratic Member Control
One member = one vote
Co-operatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions. Men and women serving as elected representatives are accountable to the membership. In primary co-operatives members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote) and cooperatives at other levels are organized in a democratic manner.
3. Member Economic Participation
No free rides
Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of their co-operative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the co-operative. They usually receive limited compensation, if any, on capital subscribed as a condition of membership. Members allocate surpluses for any or all of the following purposes: developing the co-operative, possibly by setting up reserves, part of which at least would be indivisible; benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the co-operative; and supporting other activities approved by the membership.
4. Autonomy and Independence
Self‐control, no parents
Co-operatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their co-operative autonomy.
5. Education, Training and Information
Share, Learn, Grow
Co-operatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their co-operatives. They inform the general public - particularly young people and opinion leaders - about the nature and benefits of cooperation.
6. Co-operation Among Co-operatives
Together Everyone Achieves More
Co-operatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the co-operative movement by working together through local, national, regional, and international structures.
7. Concern for Community
Building strong communities
While focusing on member needs, co-operatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies accepted by their members.
It is this seventh principle which is the focus of today’s celebrations, and the need to sustainably safeguard favourable living conditions for communities underpins all co-operatives’ operations and vision. To read more, visit the International Co-operative Alliance website for details in English; French and Spanish.
- Co-ops help people obtain goods and services that they may not otherwise be able to afford on their own. By pooling their purchasing power through a co-operative, members can obtain products and services they can afford. People from all walks of life can benefit from membership in a co-op.
- Because co-ops are open to everyone regardless of income or social status, and each member has an equal vote, co-ops can be more accountable and inclusive than other enterprises.
- Co-ops help build stronger communities. Since most co-ops are community and regionally based, investment in, and surplus revenue from the co-op stay within the local community. Every dollar invested in the local co-op, has a significant multiplier effect within the community.
- Co-operatives enable communities to have a degree of self-determination that is less subject to outside forces. Community-based ownership also make co-ops less vulnerable to takeovers and closures by outside decision-makers.
Co-ops, unlike other forms of business, have ingrained values of working together. Through co-op to co-op information and resource sharing, as well as broader networks, associations and federations, co-ops strengthen the entire movement through their own work. In Ontario, the Local Organic Food Co-ops Network is cultivating a more co-operative, place-based and sustainable food system through cross-co-op collaboration and sharing. To understand the breadth of endeavours linked through this Network, please watch and share these three excellent short films
Economic Efficiency and Resilience
Studies show that co-operatives are resilient in tumultuous economic times. Research from the International Labor Organization presented financial cooperatives remaining financially sound; consumer cooperatives reporting increased turnover; and worker cooperatives growing as people choose the co-operative form of enterprise to respond to new economic realities. For more, check out this video clip from the ILO in celebration of International Co-operative Day 2013, entitled "Cooperative Enterprise Remains Strong in Times of Crisis". In addition, local food co-ops have strong economic impacts on their local economies, due the multiplier effect as well as the co-operative legacy of keeping value (read: money and jobs) local.
- Co-operatives provide greater access to healthy food, create more jobs per square foot, return less material to the waste stream, are more energy efficient, and source a far greater proportion of product locally than their conventionally structured competitors.
- Because co-ops source a far greater proportion of their products locally and spend more on labor, they have a bigger impact on the local economy than a typical traditional grocer of comparable size would
- For every $1,000 a shopper spends at their local food co-op, $1,604 dollars in economic activity is generated in their local economy – $239 more than if they had spent that same $1,000 at a conventional grocer in the same community.
Co-ops are a powerful tool for building peace through engendering equality. Women had the vote in co-operative enterprises before they did in society in many places and today make up a vital portion of the world's food and farming co-operatives. Worker co-operatives also have a critical role to play in fostering equitable relationships within workplaces, and today are being promoted as a viable succession plan for retiring business owners. As the late Ian MacPherson wrote extensively about, co-operatives are a means to social peace. Certainly, when it comes to food and farming, we can see the impacts co-operation has upon inclusion of some of the most marginalized members of our societies and our food system, bringing in the voices of farmers, eaters, workers, youth, the elderly, drawn from every culture and history. By democratizing power among the many stakeholders, co-ops can help deepen community ties and foster a sense of place, which are both vital in the pursuit of peace.
Join the movement!
Are you all fired up about co-ops? Visit this Ontario map to find one to get involved with near you, have a read through our resources if you are eager to start one, or start a conversation with friends and neighbours about how the co-op model might be a fit for your visions of community change and adaptation.