The Cooperative Movement

An important movement in the world today is the Cooperative Movement.  A cooperative, according to the definition in Wikipedia, is an autonomous association of persons who voluntarily cooperate for their mutual social, economic, and cultural benefit. Cooperatives include non-profit community organizations and businesses that are owned and managed by the people who use its services (a consumer cooperative) and/or by the people who work there (a worker cooperative).

Rather than the standard business model, in which the main purpose is to make the most money possible for the shareholders, the cooperative business model involves organizing in order to serve a constituency in the best possible way.  In co-ops, the typical setup is selling ownership shares, but only one share per person.  One (rich) person cannot buy lots of shares in an attempt to take over the company.  The cooperative is much more democratic, in that one person, one share, one vote is the rule.

There are many types of co-ops in the world, including food co-ops, agricultural co-ops, electric utility co-ops, and others.  Credit Unions are financial institutions organized in the co-op model, which makes them distinctly different from the typical commercial bank.  The commercial bank is about making as high a profit as possible.  The  credit union is about providing financial services to its members as well as possible.  I would certainly recommend using a credit union rather than a standard commercial bank.

Food co-ops are probably the best known cooperatives in the US.  They are typically far more local product-oriented and environmentally friendly than a typical supermarket, or even a for-profit natural foods chain.  I have been involved with a food co-op in my city, the Good Foods Co-op, as consumer, board member, and now, employee. I highly recommend spending your food dollars at a local food co-op than any other place.  This truly makes an impact on the local community and the world at large.

To explore where co-ops are, especially in the US, see The Co-op Directory.

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