What is a Co-op?
Cooperatives are member-owned, member-governed businesses that operate for the benefit of their owner-members according to common principles agreed upon by the international cooperative community. In co-ops, owner-members pool resources to bring about economic results that are unobtainable by one person alone. Most simply put, a cooperative is a business:
- Voluntarily owned by the people who use it
- Operated for the benefit of its owner-members.
The Cooperative Values
Cooperatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, cooperative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility, and caring for others.
Cooperatives are built on seven core principles:
- Voluntary and open membership
- Democratic member control
- Member economic participation
- Autonomy and independence
- Education, training and information
- Cooperation among cooperatives
- Concern for community
All co-ops contain the following elements:
- Co-ops are owned and governed by their primary users (the owner-members).
- Co-ops are democratically governed (one owner-member, one vote).
- Co-ops are businesses, not clubs or associations.
- Co-ops adhere to internationally recognized principles.
While the specific goals of a cooperative are determined by its owner-members, all cooperatives adhere to the principles of cooperation that are based on practices of the first successful consumer cooperative, the Rochdale Pioneers Equitable Society, founded in Rochdale, England in 1844. In addition to consumer cooperatives, there are also producer- (usually agricultural) and worker-owned cooperatives, housing co-ops, health care co-ops (the original HMOs were co-ops), and financial co-ops (credit unions). Most grocery store co-ops are consumer cooperatives, which means that they are owned by the people who shop at the stores. Owner-members exercise their ownership by patronizing the store and electing a board of directors to guide the organization. Click here to learn more about the benefits of Bloomingfoods owner-membership.
In case you were wondering, consumer cooperatives are very different from privately-owned “discount clubs,” which charge annual fees in exchange for a discount on purchases. These clubs are not owned or governed by the members, and the profits of the business go to the investors. In a cooperative, the owner-members actually own a part of the business, and, in a profitable year, they may be eligible for a patronage rebate.
Ranging from small-scale to multi-million dollar businesses across the globe, cooperatives employ more than 100 million people and have more than 800 million individual members. The overall goal of the cooperative movement is to create organizations that serve the needs of the people who use them. Cooperative businesses provide goods and services in a way that keeps community resources in the community.