What is a Co-op?

“Cooperatives are a reminder to the international community that it is possible to pursue both economic viability and social responsibility. “
-United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

A co-op is founded and organized voluntarily by people who want goods or services provided to them through a democratically controlled enterprise. It is owned by the people who support the business, use it, and invest equity into it. The member/owners share equally in the control of their cooperative and generally meet once a year at an annual meeting. They elect a board of directors from among themselves and the directors in turn hire management to run the day-to-day affairs of the co-op. Members invest in the business to provide capital for a strong, efficient operation. Any financial surplus from member sales is returned to the co-op members in proportion to their purchases.

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Since its founding in 1976, the Co-op has relied on the vision, involvement, and support of its owners for its success. Owners have a say in how the Co-op is run through participation on the Board of Directors, by exercising voting privileges, by working on a committee, or by simply giving input on important issues.

You can’t find a more socially responsible investment than your community co-op!

The Seven Co-op Principles

  1. Voluntary and Open Membership
    • “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
    • 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 co-operatives at other levels are also organized 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 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, & 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. Cooperation Among Co-ops
    • 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.

The Co-op 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.

For additional info, visit the International Cooperative Alliance.

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