What is a Co-op?

Learn About Co-operatives

A co-op is a business that is owned and democratically controlled by its members.

The above definition neatly sums up what a co-op is: democratic, member-owned, community based. Since 1844, co-ops have been providing an awesome alternative to the capitalist way of doing things.

The very first co-op was formed by a group of weavers in Rochdale, England after they had had enough of the high cost and poor quality of goods being sold by shopkeepers. By pooling their resources, they were able to open their own shop and provide quality foods at a fair price, with any extra profit shared equally among the group.

They also came up with the Co-operative Principles as a guiding tool to ensure that this new way of doing business had some legs.

It clearly worked, as co-ops continue to meet the needs of their members in virtually every aspect of our society. The co-op sector operates in more than 90 countries worldwide, employs more than 100 million people, has over $275 billion in assets, and nearly 1 in 7 people worldwide are members of a co-op.

What’s more impressive is that co-ops do this in a way that balances social, economic and environmental returns. Co-ops are proof that there is a better way of doing business that takes into account people, the planet and profit.

Check out why co-ops are cool!

And they operate in nearly every sector of our economy. Want to live in a co-op? Consider the over 60 housing co-ops in Ottawa. Tired of banking with one of the big banks? Make the switch to a credit union. Want to invest in renewable energy? Ottawa’s own renewable energy co-op has got you covered. Hankering for a fair trade, organic chocolate bar? Don’t worry! We’ve got that too. If you’re looking to buy your goods and services from a business that is equal parts democratic, sustainable and awesome, consider co-ops. And if you’re looking to start a business along the same lines, consider the co-op model. It really is a model that works for everything and everyone!

Co-operative Principles

On September 23, 1995, the International Co‑operative Alliance, the body representing co‑operatives worldwide, adopted new co‑operative principles. They appear in short form below.

Open Membership - Co‑ops are open without exception to anyone who needs their services and freely accepts the obligations of membership.
Democratic Control - Co‑ops are controlled by their members, who together set policy, make decisions and elect leaders who report to them. In primary co‑ops each member has one vote.
Economic Participation - All members contribute fairly to their co‑ops, which they own in common. Co‑ops pay a limited return (if any) on money people have to invest to become members. Surpluses are held for the future and used to improve the co‑op’s services.
Independence - All agreements co‑ops sign with outside organizations or governments should leave the members in control of the co‑op.
Co-operative Education - Co‑ops offer training to their members, directors and staff. Co‑ops tell the public what they are and what they do.
Co-operative Among Co-ops - Co‑ops work together through local, national and international structures to serve their members.
Community - Co‑ops meet members’ needs in ways that build lasting communities within and beyond each co‑op.