Cooperative business structure

Co-ops are back, according to Yes! Magazine.   A cooperative is a business structure where a group of people put their money or resources together and share ownership in a democratic structure.  If you belong to a credit union, you’re part of a co-op.  ACE and True Value Hardware are co-ops, and so is Land o’ Lakes.  We don’t think about them because they are staying quiet and being good businesses.

A standard corporation is charged (by the law) with only one task – to make money for its shareholders.  If it tries to do other things, like establish good working conditions or protect the environment, it can be taken to court and forced to turn back to profits.

“Cooperatives, in their various forms, promote the fullest possible participation in the economic and social development of all people, including women, youth, older persons, persons with disabilities and indigenous peoples, are becoming a major factor of economic and social development and contribute to the eradication of poverty.” – UN Resolution 64/136, 2010

Co-ops have promise not just in the developed world, but in developing countries as well.  They are a way to get people who individually have very small assets to bring them together in order to be able to so something larger – such as a town getting together to roast the coffee beans they grow or process their own cotton.

Today it becomes most important that, cooperatives “are motivated not by profit, but by service-to meet their members’ needs or affordable and high quality goods or services; Exist solely to serve their members.”  They are owned by their members and surplus monies are returned to their members.

Co-ops are one of several potential new business models that can allow people to conduct real business, while staying accountable to their community and world.