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According to the International Co-operative Alliance cooperatives are "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". Cooperatives bring people together in a democratic and equal way. Whether the members are the customers, employees, users or residents, cooperatives are democratically managed by the one member, one vote rule. Members share equal voting rights regardless of the amount of capital they put into the enterprise. Unlike other businesses cooperatives are not owned by shareholders but the members of the cooperative, ensuring that the benefits and profits of the business are returned to the members or reinvested into the cooperative.
There are a number of different kinds of cooperatives that achieve different goals and are owned by different groups of people.
Cooperatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity as well as the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility, and caring for others.
Cooperative principles are the guidelines by which cooperatives put their values into practice, there are seven principles in total. While its easy to see how some of the principles can be practically applied others may be more difficult. A great resource for thinking this the report issued by the International Co-operative Alliance "Guidance Notes to the Co-operative Principles" which provides concrete examples of how the cooperative principles can be put into practice.
There are millions of cooperatives world wide that provide both employment and social needs to there members and community. A study of cooperatives in 145 countries estimates that there are 2.6 million cooperatives worldwide with one billion members, 12.6 million employees. It also found that these cooperatives hold $20 Trillion in assets and generate $3 trillion in annual revenue.
The US has a long history of cooperative development that continues until today. A study carried out by researchers at the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives found that there is an estimated 30,000 cooperatives with 350 million members (many people are members of more than one cooperative) that operate 73,000 places of business. In US cooperatives provide employment for over 2 million people, generate over $600 billion in revenue, pay $75 billion in wages and hold $3 trillion in assets. In addition, the report estimates that US cooperatives also provide an added economic impact of $75 billion through 'patronage', the returning of a portion of profits to cooperative members.
The impact of cooperatives isn't only measured in economic terms. Many cooperatives provide services that improve the quality of life of members that would otherwise not be available in their communities. Examples include childcare, home health care, housing, financial services and basic utilities. Cooperatives are a way to anchor small businesses in, and provide needed goods and services to, our local communities. They enable greater participation by workers, consumers, producers, and others in our economy, creating networks of individuals connected through the achievement of a common goal.
Reports and Presentations on Cooperative Development
Organizations Supporting Cooperative Development