WASHINGTON, DC – In an era in which conventional models of finance, corporate governance, and corporate responsibility are increasingly debated, if not called into question, it may be time to revisit the alternative approach taken by economic cooperatives. The foundational values of cooperatives embody not only a humane vision, but also a pragmatic approach to production that has enabled the successful ones to thrive – and to spur economic growth in countries that desperately need it.
Cooperative movements took shape in the Americas, Europe, Australia, and Japan in the 1800’s. Many grew from the simple proposition that ordinary people could overcome adversity in the marketplace by banding together to buy and sell goods at reasonable prices, and quickly realized the added benefits of sharing knowledge among members, promoting inclusion, and building social capital.
Today, cooperatives cover a range of activities and come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from small-scale agricultural and consumer organizations in Africa to some of the leading agricultural brands and largest financial-service providers in North America and Europe.
According to the International Cooperative Alliance, a cooperative is a “jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise.” But, beneath this definition lie rich notions of voluntary association, accountability for strategic decisions, and concern for the communities that cooperatives serve.