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What is a Co-op?


Co-operatives are businesses owned and run by and for their members. Whether the members are the customers, employees or residents they have an equal say in what the business does and a share in the profits.

As businesses driven by values not just profit, co-operatives share internationally agreed principles and act together to build a better world through co-operation. To find out more about co-operative values and principles, click here.

Successful co-operatives around the world are allowing people to work together to create sustainable enterprises that generate jobs and prosperity and provide answers to poverty and short term business practices.

Look at an ICA Factsheet on the differences between Co-operatives, Corporations and Non Profit Organisations

Co-operative identity, values & principles

Definition

A co-operative is 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.

Values

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.

Principles

The co-operative principles are guidelines by which co-operatives put their values into practice.

  • 1. Voluntary and Open Membership
    Co-operatives are voluntary organisations, 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
    Co-operatives are democratic organisations 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 co-operatives at other levels are also organised in a democratic manner.
  • 3. Member Economic Participation
    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. Members 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 their 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
    Co-operatives are autonomous, self-help organisations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organisations, 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
    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 co-operation.
  • 6. Co-operation among Co-operatives
    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
    Co-operatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members.

Start a co-op

  • There are a large number of organisations and educational institutions that provide tools on co-operative development - from starting your co-op to developing your co-op to ensuring it is sustainable. Below are useful links that provide information which can be used in a variety of countries and sectors.
File Attachments:
pdf icon How to establish a co-op.pdf