What is a co-op?
The International Co-operative Alliance defines a cooperative, or co-op, as "an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise."
One key attribute of a cooperative is that it is owned by its members-whether that be its consumers, workers, or producers. The people who benefit from the cooperative's product or service own the business. Cooperatives are built on member economic participation and members see a long-term return versus quick, short-term returns.
Cooperative members have equal say in organizational decisions. United by a common mission, members work to reach their goals together. The true democracy of cooperatives can intimidate potential members, but sharing a mission keeps members moving in a similar direction.
Solving big problems
Cooperatives are entrepreneurial in spirit; they often times are created to solve a prevalent problem. For example, food cooperatives can provide an established grocery store in an area formally known as a food desert.
Putting wealth back into the community
Cooperatives are more economically resilient than stereotypical corporations. Since members own cooperatives, their wages are poured back into the local community rather than being given to a large, faceless organization. Moreover, cooperatives usually support local suppliers and developers.
Three types of cooperatives
Worker cooperatives are owned by those providing the services of the cooperative. This type of cooperative is helpful for freelance workers as they can work with other individuals in the industry to lower costs and
increase market share.
Producer cooperatives are owned by those creating the products offered by the cooperative. Cooperative members work together by sharing the cost of production and marketing. Producer cooperatives are very popular in the farming industry.
Consumer cooperatives are owned by those who purchase and use the product or service which the cooperative offers. Consumer cooperatives range in size and in industry. A few common examples are utility and food cooperatives.