What is a co-operative?

Written by Allison Smith, Thrive

Simply put, a co-operative is a business owned by its members who use its services and are working towards a common goal. Co-operatives can be successful, replicable and impactful just like any other business.

One of the key principles of a co-operative is having an open and voluntary membership that is inclusive. Furthermore, co-operatives are entrenched in the values of democracy, equality and social responsibility. Since a member is entitled to only one vote at a general meeting, regardless of the number of shares he or she holds, cooperatives are able to maintain democratic control. They also work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members. And that’s not all!

In addition, the cooperative enterprise is not designed to maximize profits to shareholders but to maximize quality products and services at the best price.  Although the primary goal is not profit, the cooperative needs to generate enough revenue to cover its costs and ensure sustainable growth. Any surplus profit can then be returned to its members or it can be treated similar to a non-profit and used towards common social goals.

A co-operative can be a non-profit or for-profit. There are various kinds of co-operatives such as financial, retail or worker co-operatives. You could shop from a retail co-op, live in a housing co-op and send your children to a child care co-op. Really the possibilities are endless and reach to all aspects of our social, environment and economic sectors. For more details on the various types of co-operatives and their differences read more here: Various Kinds of Coops


Regardless of the type, all co-operatives are guided by the same seven principles:

  1. Voluntary and open membership 
  2. Democratic member control
  3. Member economic participation
  4. Autonomy and independence
  5. Education, training, and information
  6. Co-operation among co-operatives
  7. Concern for community

There are many advantages to having a co-operative such as receiving the commitment and support of its members to solve a problem. It provides a way to protect everyone’s interests and enables collective decision making. In addition, co-operatives often experience high worker satisfaction and better quality products due to the high motivation of workers for common values and goals. There are many proven small and large enterprises that have succeeded as co-operatives such as Mountain Equipment Co-op and CO-OP grocers, although the list goes on and on.

To learn more about co-operatives visit the Alberta Community and Co-operative Association: ACCA website

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  1. By What is a co-operative? | CreateAction! on July 15, 2013 at 1:43 pm

    […] What is a co-operative? […]

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