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Although examples of different forms of self-help or economic cooperation can be found throughout all historical eras, the roots of the current co-operative movement go back to workers and consumers who organised as a response to the harsh social and economic situation inflicted on people by the expansion of industrial capitalism in the 18th and 19th centuries. Co-operatives evolved as a unique organisational form with its own tradition, original defining features and set of values and principles. The current commonly used definition is that of the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) – the largest global umbrella organ-isation of national and international co-operative organisations.


Co-operatives are democratically managed organisations. It means that in an ideal case, each member has one vote. The principle of ‘one person, one vote’ is one of the historical corner-stones of co-operatives. The most important decisions are taken by all co-op members at a general assembly. The members also decide about the use of all profits. Therefore it is important to know and apply methods of democratic decision making (see Chapter 2). But even in this type of organisation, the division of labour and delegation of power exists. The structure of co-operatives differs depending upon the type and the scale of any given co-op.

Definition of a co-operative


In larger co-ops with more members, power is delegated to the board of directors who are elected by the general assembly for practical reasons. The board of directors manages everyday operations of the co-operative and hire employees if and as required. The structure of the co-operative is stipulated in its by-laws.

A basic co-op structure


In the year 1844, the Society of Equitable Pioneers was established in Rochdale. It is considered the first modern co-operative, mostly because the Rochdale Pioneers designed the famous Rochdale Principles, a set of principles of cooperation that inspired the creation of the modern co-operative movement and stand at the foundation of values and principles of the ICA. Shortly after the Rochdale Pioneers co-operative, many others were established throughout Europe. In the Central and Eastern European context it is interesting to note that one of the oldest modern-era co-operative was established in Slovakia – Spolok gazdovský, a credit union designed to provide financial services to smallholder farmers and artisans. It was founded just a few months after the establishment of the Rochdale co-operative, hence becoming the first credit union in continental Europe.

Co-operative valuesCo-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.

Co-operative Principles
The co-operative principles are guidelines by which co-operatives put their values into practice.

1. Voluntary and Open Membership
Co-operatives are voluntary organisations, 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
Co-operatives are democratic organisations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions. Men and women serving as elected representatives are accountable to the members. In primary co-operatives members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote) and co-operatives at other levels are also organised in a democratic manner.

3. Economic Participation of Members
Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control the capital of their co-operative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the co-operative. 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 co-operative, possibly by setting up reserves, part of which at least would be indivisible; benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the co-operative and supporting other activities approved by the membership.

4. Autonomy and Independence
Co-operatives are autonomous, self-help organisations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organisations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their co-operative autonomy.

5. Education, Training, and Information
Co-operatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their co-operatives. They inform the general public – particularly young people and opinion leaders – about the nature and benefits of cooperation.

6. Cooperation among Co-operatives
Co-operatives serve their members most effectively and strength-en the co-operative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.

7. Concern for Community
Co-operatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members

Co-operatives started to mutually collaborate and create umbrella organisations very early. The ICA was founded in London during the first international co-operative congress in 1895. To this day, the alliance facilitates the implementation of the 6th co-operative principle to boost cooperation between co-operatives. It develops relationships between members, organises regional and international meetings, disseminates know-how and prepares training programmes and publications. Part of ICA’s effort is to protect and promote the co-operative identity that sets co-operatives apart from other types of enterprises and protects the co-operative identity.

One of the global events supporting the co-operative movement and disseminating its ideas is The International Day of Co-operatives, which takes place every first Saturday in July.

Facts and figures


Τελευταία τροποποίηση: Δευτέρα, 12 Απριλίου 2021, 11:59 AM