Cooperative Today

‘Cooperative today’

 “The co-operative ideal is as old as human society. It is the idea of conflict and competition as a principle of economic progress that is new. The development of the idea of co-operation in the 19th century can best be understood as an attempt to make explicit a principle that is inherent in the constitution of society, but which has been forgotten in the turmoil and disintegration of rapid economic progress.”

The cooperative venture that we have embarked upon has had a long and varied history.  The above quotation is displayed next to the Statement on the Cooperative Identity in the museum dedicated to the Rochdale Pioneers, considered the founders of modern cooperation, who pooled their meager resources during the ‘hungry forties’ and opening a small consumer shop on the 15th August 1844 in Rochdale, England.    

The staying power of the cooperative idea in the dominant global capitalist environment of conflict and competition cannot be questioned. The largest 300 co-operatives and mutual sectors from a group of some 2,575 cooperatives considered worldwide, had total turnover of US$2,360 billion in 2016 and 1,156 of these had turnover of over US$100M each. . (https://www.ica.coop/sites/default/files/2021-11/WCM_2018-web.pdf).  The largest cooperative in the world by turnover is Crédit Agricole Group that began in 1894 to give short-term domestic loans to farmers but later provided longer loans to help them to purchase equipment, livestock, etc. In 2019 its turnover was about US$100bn, total assets US$2.741 trillion and it employed 142,000 persons. It is the world's largest cooperative financial institution; France's second largest bank; the third largest bank in Europe and tenth largest in the world (Wikipedia).

Cooperatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity and are autonomous associations of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically-controlled enterprise. In 1970 in an attempt to capture the cooperative ideal to help mend an ethnically fractured state Guyana was declared a Cooperative Republic and both the traditional and modern forms of co-operation were emphasised.

The official narrative celebrated the traditional cooperative living of the Amerindian, the Africans pooling their resources to purchases largely abandoned plantation and establishes villages, the cooperatives activities of Indians in their agricultural endeavours, etc. Modern cooperation that had grown from 183 societies with share capital (SC) of $91,155 in 1951 to 568 societies with SC of $1.4million in 1961 and 1,177 societies with SC of $8 millions in 1974 and this bolstered the belief that cooperatives could indeed have been the instrument to transform the lives of the ‘small man’ and making a nation out of diverse peoples. Needless to say that venture failed largely because the political underpinnings were unrealistic but its resilience and the present levels of global inequalities have made the cooperative idea again attractive.

The International Cooperative Alliance, is the global steward of the Statement on Cooperative Identity and the following are the seven core principles of international cooperation. In 2016 the Alliance provided Guidance Notes on these principles to give detailed advice on the practical application of the principles to cooperative in the 21st century. Our members are advised to pay keen attention to these Notes  


1. Voluntary and Open Membership:

Cooperatives 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:

Cooperatives are democratic organisations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions. Those 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 organised 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 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 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 co-operatives. They inform the general public - particularly young people and opinion leaders - about the nature and benefits of co-operation.

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.


United Nations IDPAD Program

Funding provided by Caribbean Development Bank and the 11thEDF Regional Private Sector Development Programme Technical Assistance Programme.
The views expressed in this website are those of the author(s) and do not reflect those of the Technical Assistance Programme.