Cooperatives Ecosystem

Cooperatives are businesses, but not like any other.

Cooperatives exist to serve their members, whether they are customers, employees or the local community. What’s more, these members are the owners, with an equal say in what the cooperative does. So, as well as getting the products and services they need, members help shape the decisions their cooperative makes.

Cooperatives want to trade successfully – they are businesses, not charities, after all. Members, such as farmers or freelancers, tenants or taxi drivers, can often do better by working together. And sharing the profit is a way to keep it fair and make it worthwhile. Rather than rewarding outside investors, a cooperative shares its profits among the members.


Understanding the Cooperative Ecosystem

At the heart of the cooperative ecosystem is a set of principles that drive cooperative entities’ functioning and the manner in which they interact with the larger economy and society. These principles include voluntary and open membership, democratic member control, member economic participation, autonomy and independence, education, training and information, cooperation among cooperatives, and concern for community.

In the cooperative ecosystem, every member has an equal say and shares equally in the risks and benefits. Each member, regardless of their financial contribution, has one vote, embodying the cooperative’s democratic ethos. This equitable form of decision-making sets cooperatives apart from traditional for-profit companies, where decision-making power often resides with those who hold the most shares.

In this ecosystem, cooperation and mutual support are pivotal. Cooperatives help each other through knowledge and resource sharing, networking, and collaboration on shared objectives. This creates an interdependent and mutually reinforcing web of entities that support and strengthen each other, contributing to a resilient cooperative ecosystem.


Benefits and Impact of the Cooperative Ecosystem

The cooperative ecosystem has significant social, economic, and environmental impacts. Cooperatives create sustainable jobs, contribute to local economic growth, and promote social inclusion. They help bridge income and wealth gaps and stimulate economic activity, especially in underserved communities.

Moreover, cooperatives operate with a long-term perspective and aim for sustainable development. They emphasize environmental sustainability, community development, and high-quality services over short-term profit. By doing so, they contribute to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, aligning economic activity with social responsibility.



Sectorial organization

Cooperatives operate in a wide range of sectors, reflecting their diverse purposes and the vast range of human needs they can address. Here are some of the most common sectors in which cooperatives are found:

  1. Agriculture: Agricultural cooperatives include farmer coops that provide their members with access to markets, help negotiate better prices, and often provide inputs like seeds and fertilizer. Dairy and fruit/vegetable cooperatives are also common.
  2. Financial Services: This sector includes credit unions and cooperative banks that provide member-focused financial services, often in communities underserved by traditional banks. They offer services such as savings accounts, loans, and insurance products.
  3. Retail: Retail cooperatives can range from small community coops selling local products to large entities like consumer food cooperatives. They focus on serving their members with high-quality products, often emphasizing fair trade and organic produce.
  4. Housing: Housing cooperatives offer an affordable alternative to home ownership. Members own a share in the cooperative, which owns residential property. The cooperative structure can also promote community and shared responsibility.
  5. Healthcare: Health cooperatives can be owned by healthcare providers (such as doctor or nurse cooperatives) or by patients (health consumer cooperatives). They focus on delivering high-quality care tailored to their members’ needs.
  6. Energy: Energy cooperatives can be involved in the production and distribution of renewable energy, providing an alternative to traditional energy companies and promoting sustainability
  7. Worker Cooperatives: In these cooperatives, the employees are the owners. This can promote job security, fair wages, and a democratic work environment.


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