An independent group of people who have come together voluntarily to work.

Austin Anderson

Reviewed by

Austin Anderson

Expertise: Consulting | Data Analysis


September 16, 2022

A cooperative, co-operative, or coop is an independent group of people who have come together voluntarily to work for the same economic, social, and cultural goals through a collectively held business. 


Each coop member has one vote for the board of directors, elected democratically by the coop'scoop's members.

Cooperatives generally include:

  1.  Organizations owned and run by those who consume their services
  2.  Organizations operate by those who work there.
  3.  Hybrid coops, where several stakeholder groups have the right to a part of the profits. Nonprofit organizations or investors may also be considered stakeholders.
  4.  Coops in the second and third divisions whose representatives are also cooperatives.
  5.  Network cooperatives support selling products and services through a collectively owned and operated website, mobile app, or protocol.

Compared to many other company models, cooperative businesses are often more productive and monetarily flexible. Coops usually have social objectives, which they try to achieve by giving back to their local communities a share of the trading earnings.

People who have a particular need and are prepared to collaborate to run and manage a business that will satisfy that need are the ones who establish coops.

Out of the world's 3 million cooperatives, nearly one billion individuals in 96 countries have become members of at least one coop, accounting for more than 12% of the global population. 

The global turnover of the top three hundred coops is way more than $2 trillion.


Coops are formed based on self-help, self-reliance, democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity and the seven fundamental principles of cooperative societies are based on these qualities.

The commitment to cooperative principles and ideals considering social, political, and commercial issues is one-way cooperatives vary from conventional company organizations.


These principles were created in England in 1844 and provided the fundamental guidelines and framework for managing a just and prosperous cooperative enterprise.

Over time, these ideas have been improved upon, modified, and reexamined. 

The seven guiding principles now employed by the International Cooperative Alliance are widely acknowledged by cooperatives worldwide.

However, several cooperatives have employed closed membership to increase productivity, profitability, and return on member equity investments. 

Pro investors now have the power to vote under new cooperative regulations in various jurisdictions.

A cooperative organization can only be recognized as one if they follow these seven main principles:

1. Voluntary and Open Membership:

Cooperatives are voluntary organizations that welcome anybody who can utilize their services and is ready to take on the duties of becoming a member, regardless of gender, socioeconomic class, political affiliation, race, or religion.

2. Democratic Member Control:

Since a cooperative organization is owned by its members, it is administered by a democratic system of governing and functioning. 

By choosing or joining the Board of Directors, owners actively establish policies and make decisions. Upon entering the coop, every owner receives an equal number of votes, and elected officials are answerable to the ownership.


3. Member Economic Participation:

Equitable member contributions and democratic member control over the coop's capital are essential to govern a cooperative society. Typically, a portion of the capital belongs to the cooperative as common property. 

As a requirement of participation, members often get minimal remuneration, if any, on capital subscribed. 

Members distribute surpluses for any or all of the following: cooperative development, possibly by establishing reserves, at least a portion of which would be indivisible; member benefits in proportion to members' transactions with the coop; and support for other membership-approved activities.

4. Autonomy and Independence:

 Coops are independent, self-reliant businesses that their members run.

Suppose the coop enters into a contract with another organization or obtains funding from outside sources. In that case, these actions are governed by provisions that guarantee democratic control by the members and maintain the cooperative's independence.

5. Education, Training and Information:

For their members, elected officials, managers, and staff to effectively contribute to the development of their cooperatives, coops offer them education and training. 

They educate the broader public on the nature and advantages of cooperation, particularly young people and opinion leaders.


6. Cooperation among Cooperatives:

 Coops best serve their members and advance the coop movement by cooperating through local, national, regional, and worldwide institutions.

7. Concern for Community:

Through policies endorsed by their members, coops work for the sustainable development of their communities while concentrating on the needs of their members.

The Legal Identity

The 1995 International Co-operative Alliance Statement on the cooperative identity outlines the components that make up the coop identity (ICA Statement). 

The ICA Statement's language is unambiguous: its established cooperative principles put the values on which coops are founded into effect. Coops are also described in the ICA Statement. 

As a result of the International Labor Organization's No. 193 Recommendation for the Promotion of Cooperatives from 2002, this identity is now legally recognized worldwide.


A coop is a business possessed by and democratically run by its members. Members frequently have a strong relationship with the company because they create or use its goods or services or work there. 

Legal entities exhibit a variety of social traits. Anyone who meets specific non-partisan requirements may join, as membership is open. 

Instead of according to capital invested, financial advantages are paid proportionally to each member's degree of engagement in the coop, such as through a dividend on sales or purchases. 

Worker, consumer, producer, buying, or housing coops are all different types of co-ops. They differ from other kinds of incorporation in that the community's interests are weighed against profit-making or financial stability.

Co-ops frequently distribute dividends to their membership, which are distributed among the members based on their engagement in the business, such as patronage, rather than the value of their capital investment. 

For example, under state-specific cooperative regulations, coops are frequently set up in the US as non-capital stock businesses.

Share Capital Structure

The kind of capital that a cooperative accumulates through the paid participation shares of its members is known as coop share capital, coop share capital, or simply cooperative capital.

The capital of a coop comprises the entire quantity of participation shares paid to it. Typically, the cooperative members cannot withdraw and cannot divide the share capital.


Coops often use a combination of financing from lenders and at-risk equity contributions from the co-op members to finance their start-up expenses.

In incorporation, which takes place at the state level, crucial choices concerning member equity structure are made. State laws regulating coop formation are inconsistent and differ significantly from one state to the next. 

Depending on state law, coops may choose to incorporate as either stock or non-stock enterprises. 

Suppose the co-op is set up as an equity share cooperative. In that case, the founding members outline the number and types of stocks that the cooperative may issue in the articles of incorporation. Cooperatives may later change the articles to issue more shares or a different kind of equity.

Members supply the equity capital necessary for the cooperative enterprise's start-up and expansion by purchasing cooperative shares. 

Stock coops will all contain at least one class of member stock, sometimes known as "voting stock," because coops are structured around the democratic ideal of one member/one vote. 

One share of this type of stock may be owned by each shareholder, who is also given membership and voting rights. Voting stock seldom generates a cash return or dividend; its value lies in its voting rights.


Voting stock is often redeemed at the original purchase price by the coop when a member quits because active members only permit ownership.

Most co-ops demand upfront payment for member shares when a member joins. Many organizations enable members to pay for expensive memberships over time or by applying loyalty rewards to any outstanding debt.

Some coops employ the "per-unit reserves" method, in which members consent to the cooperative withholding a tiny amount of the sale revenues based on the number of goods the coop markets.


Coops might differ depending on the service provided and how the members are arranged. Additionally, they vary based on economic activity, how members use the cooperative, and management style.


A co-op is formed when the individuals who consume the products and services that a company provides own and run the firm as any industry or sector of business is eligible for a cooperative enterprise.

Aside from the ownership structure, a few additional characteristics distinguish the different cooperative types.

Consumers, producers/farmers, labourers, enterprises or organizations, towns, and other co-ops are all examples of potential members of cooperatives. The sort of membership, or more simply, who owns the cooperative, determines the type of cooperative.

Depending on the co-op's member-owners, co-ops can be large or small, exist in a variety of businesses or sectors, and take on a variety of shapes. Cooperative include the following:

1. Consumers’ Co-operative:

A consumer cooperative is a business controlled and governed democratically by customers attempting to meet its members' requirements and goals.

These cooperatives function as a type of mutual help inside the market structure, independent of the state, and are geared toward service rather than monetary profit.


Generally, food coops are consumer coops; however, several forms operate in fields such as health care, insurance, housing, utilities, and personal finance.

In some regions, consumer coops are sometimes known as cooperative retail societies or retail co-ops. However, they should not be confused with retailers' cooperatives, whose members are retailers rather than consumers.

Workers, managers, clerks, goods, and customers are all needed to keep the doors open and the company functioning in large consumer coops. Consumers/owners are frequently workers in tiny enterprises.

Usually, the people who contribute the money needed to start or buy that business also use the products and/or services the cooperative offers. 

The main distinction between consumer coops and other business models is that a consumers cooperative association's goal is to offer quality goods and services to its members at the lowest possible cost rather than to sell them for more than what a customer is willing to pay.

2. Producers’ Co-operative:

The members of producer coops often referred to as marketing coops, supply the cooperative with the same production that the coop markets in a processed or value-added form.

The purpose of the Co-ops is to commercialize member input by pursuing the best price on the market. 


To satisfy the marketing requirements and research and access the market for their goods, several suppliers are formed into marketing co-ops in Manitoba.

Farmers, artists, harvesters, and fishermen are among the Producer Co-ops that look for and sell to end customers to profit from their owners/producers.

These producers understand that collective buying may save input costs and administrative costs.

 Additionally, by utilizing a single brand, businesses might be able to raise the value of their items. 

The producer will have more time and money to devote to production if these duties are completed more quickly and with less expense.

3. Worker Co-operative:

Co-ops owned and managed by its employees are referred to as worker co-ops. The worker co-goal op's is to give its members authority over their workplace and to provide jobs for them. 

Members share ownership expenses and risks and contribute the cash needed to finance the company.


A worker co-op, categorized as a third sort of co-op where the members are employees, has its business portion under its control.

The worker co-ops typically provide services to other companies, such as printing, childcare, cleaning, consulting, delivery, manufacturing, and food services.

Workers are not necessarily required to join, although in general, only employees can do so either directly as stakeholders or indirectly by becoming a member of a trust that owns the business.

Employee members have significant benefits such as participation in decision-making through voting on a Board of Directors, profit sharing via patron distributions, and a standard of living at work determined by the membership.

4. Housing Cooperatives:

In a housing cooperative, members either have membership and occupancy rights in a not-for-profit coop / non-share capital co-op or own shares/share capital co-op, reflecting their equity in the cooperative's real estate. 


They financially support their housing through subscription payments or rent.

Coops have three distinct basic equity models:

  • In cooperatives for market-rate housing, members can sell their shares at any time for whatever the market will bear, just like any other residential property. 
  • Developers of inexpensive housing frequently utilize limited equity housing co-ops, which let members hold a portion of the equity in their homes but restrict the sale price of their membership share to the amount they originally paid.
  • Housing co-ops with group equity or zero equity typically have rental agreements far less expensive than market rates and do not permit members to possess equity in their homes.

5. Financial Cooperatives:

This is a financial institution owned and run by its members and is a financial co-op. A financial cooperative's mission is to represent a cohesive group providing traditional banking services. 

These organizations try to set themselves apart by providing above-average services and attractive pricing for insurance, loan, and investing transactions.

As their members own and run, credit unions are the most well-known type of financial co-op. 


These financial organizations frequently provide interest rates above the industry norm and are exclusively open to individuals with accounts.

Financial co-ops can range from having only a few branches to having hundreds of sites. Numerous financial co-ops provide goods and services on par with those offered by the largest diversified banks.

Financial co-ops allow anybody to join, and unlike banks, they could be more concerned with their members' financial well-being than with making a profit. 

Each co-op member has one vote, and the co-op is governed democratically. They don't possess varying levels of authority depending on share ownership, and their particular financial situation is irrelevant.

Based on how many members participate, the cooperative's scale is determined. As more people sign up, the financial cooperative has more significant resources and can provide financial products, cheaper fees, lower interest rates on loans, and higher yields on savings.

 Many ATMs may be available through credit unions rather than major banks.

6. Multi-Stakeholder Co-operative:

Coops owned and governed by multiple membership classes, such as customers, producers, employees, volunteers, or community members, are known as multi-stakeholder cooperatives. 

Stakeholders can be either private persons or public entities like coops, corporations, and nonprofits.


Each stakeholder has one vote. The members choose the board of ten at the annual general meeting. There is at least one board member assigned to each membership type.

An innovative governance provision ensures the ability of one set of members to control the others. Board decisions are typically reached by consensus

Each director has one vote, and decisions are made by a simple majority of those in attendance or represented unless otherwise specified by the cooperative's registered or internal regulations in the event of a tie. 

The votes from the other categories take precedence if a group of voters' votes all fall under the same category.

7. Nonprofit Community Coops:

A Community Service Co-operative's goals might be altruistic or to offer members health, social, educational, or other community services while also having a duty to the larger community.

Only assets that support and expand the cooperative may be gathered or donated.


The majority of community service co-ops offer services, particularly to members. This membership is intended to promote service utilization and active involvement.

 On the other hand, membership in a nonprofit company is typically less essential to the organization's operating goal. 

This frequently occurs because member engagement and service use are less important to an organization's survival than its mandate—for example, alleviating famine.

The majority of community service cooperatives offer services, particularly to members. This membership is intended to promote service utilization and active involvement.

 The idea of "one member, one vote" is the foundation of cooperatives. One of the primary features that sets cooperatives apart from other company models is the egalitarian governance system mandated by law.


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Researched and Authored by Aviral Mathur | LinkedIn 

Edited By Céline Khattar | LinkedIn

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