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Co-ops 101

What's a co-op?

It's an enterprise owned and operated by and for its members, people working together to meet a common need. While co-ops are for-profit, we're driven by the needs of our members and by internationally-recognized principles, not just the pursuit of profit. As envisioned by the pioneers of the modern cooperative movement, co-ops should embody the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity.

The Cooperative Principles

Most co-ops are guided by the internationally-recognized Seven Cooperative Principles:

1. Voluntary and open membership

​Cooperatives are voluntary organizations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.

2. Democratic member control

​Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions. People serving as elected representatives are accountable to the membership. In primary cooperatives members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote) and cooperatives at other levels are also organized in a democratic manner.

3. Member economic participation

​Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of their cooperative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the cooperative. Members usually receive limited compensation, if any, on capital subscribed as a condition of membership. Members allocate surpluses for any or all of the following purposes: developing their cooperative, possibly by setting up reserves, part of which at least would be indivisible; benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the cooperative; and supporting other activities approved by the membership.

4. Autonomy and independence

Cooperatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their cooperative autonomy.

5. Education, training, and information

Cooperatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperatives. They inform the general public - particularly young people and opinion leaders - about the nature and benefits of cooperation.

6. Cooperation among cooperatives

Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.

7. Concern for community

Cooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members.

source: http://ica.coop