Millions of people worldwide are members of cooperatives but ask most people "what is a cooperative?" and it is highly likely that many of their answers will be confusing. If members of coops don't understand what their enterprise is all about then we really have got a problem. So we must find a way of explaining what co-ops really are in a way that makes sense to ordinary people.
People usually join a co-op because they want:
- A Better deal
- A Better organization, and
- A Better future
…… than they can currently get in the marketplace.
A cooperative is:
"People working together to get a better deal, a better organization and a better future"
… But co-ops can also be about economic empowerment!
If cooperatives are to achieve their full potential then there needs to be an upsurge in the level of understanding of the true nature of the cooperative model of enterprise and a commitment to address the many common problems that constrain genuine cooperative enterprises.
The function of a co-operative is to intervene in a marketplace in the best interest of its members
The current approach has been to rely on upon a set of 'Cooperative Principles', as defined in the ICA* Statement of Cooperative Identity. This has served cooperatives well in terms of providing a definition of a cooperative and has provided some of the elements required within their organizational structure; also some of the most essential policies and practices required. However, despite its widespread propagation over many years, most people still have considerable difficulty in properly understanding the true nature of cooperatives. In most countries this state of affairs is perpetuated by an education system that virtually ignores the existence of cooperatives.
It is important to fully comprehend the background to the establishment of these Cooperative Principles and the pragmatic role that ICA members have played in their formulation. The ICA Cooperative Principles have evolved over time, as much as a vehicle for sustaining the unity of the ICA as an international organization as to provide guidance to cooperatives. For example, reference to the need for cooperatives to be active participants in a market economy and for them to be party politically neutral, were omitted in order to allow communist countries to continue to participate.
*The International Cooperative Alliance
When a group of people set up an enterprise with the purpose of serving their mutual interests the only guarantee they have that the organization will remain committed to this purpose is for it to always remain under member-control. In order to ensure that the enterprise will serve the membership in its entirety this has got to be genuine democratic member-control.