MASS-SPECC Cooperative Development Center

what are co-ops?


Co-operatives have a unique identity as enterprises that revolve around people, placing their needs and aspirations at the core of their existence. Owned, controlled, and operated by their members, co-operatives are a driving force in realizing collective economic, social, and cultural goals.

At the heart of co-operatives lies a democratic ethos, bringing individuals together on an equal footing. Whether members serve as customers, employees, users, or community members, decision-making within co-operatives operates under the “one member, one vote” principle. This means that every member has an equal say in shaping the co-operative’s direction, regardless of their capital contribution.

Unlike conventional profit-driven businesses, co-operatives are guided by a set of internationally recognized principles that prioritize values over mere financial gains. Co-operation is the key to building a better and sustainable world, with fairness, equality, and social justice forming the cornerstone of co-operative endeavors. This shared commitment empowers co-operatives worldwide to collaborate towards a common purpose, fostering sustainable enterprises that create long-term jobs and prosperity.

One of the most significant advantages of co-operatives is that they allow people to seize control of their economic future. Unlike shareholder-owned companies, co-operatives are not beholden to external investors. Instead, the economic and social benefits of co-operative activities remain rooted in the communities we serve. Any profits generated are either reinvested in the co-operative toward further growth or redistributed among members, realizing their financial freedom.

Far from being a marginal phenomenon, the co-operative movement has garnered substantial global participation. Remarkably, at least 12% of the world’s population actively participates in one of the three million co-operatives that span the globe, according to the latest figures from the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA).

Co-operatives embody the spirit of collaboration and solidarity, uniting individuals from all walks of life to create meaningful change. By placing people first and upholding principles that extend beyond profit margins, co-operatives stand as a testament to the potential of co-operation in building a more inclusive and prosperous world for everyone.

In 1995, the International Cooperative Alliance, being the global steward of the Co-operative Identity of the global movement, formally defines that:

“A co-operative is 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.”