The United Nations General Assembly has declared 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives. IIndividuals and communities will be encouraged to promote cooperatives and recognize their contribution to economic development.
The UN has a special site for the Year of Cooperatives. One of the aims is to raise awareness of cooperatives among the public. On the prairies where I live retail consumer cooperative stores are quite common especially in small towns. Often a consumer retail coop plus a financial coop(Credit Union) will be key businesses. The slogan for the Year is:
"Cooperative Enterprises Build A Better World ". The ten key messages will be:
Cooperative enterprises build a better world.
Cooperative enterprises are member owned, member serving and member driven
Cooperatives empower people
Cooperatives improve livelihoods and strengthen the economy
Cooperatives enable sustainable development
Cooperatives promote rural development
Cooperatives balance both social and economic demands
Cooperatives promote democratic principles
Cooperatives and gender: a pathway out of poverty
Cooperatives: a sustainable business model for youth
Cooperatives provide an alternative to the private shareholder for-profit type of business that is most common and well known. Consumer Coops elect boards of directors based upon one member one vote rather than on the basis of voting shares held. In retail and financial coops surplus funds not reinvested are returned to members often on the basis of the business transacted with the coop rather than as a dividend based upon shares held.
Economic development through coops has often been encouraged in underdeveloped countries especially rural development. However there are huge coops in cities as well. For example New York's Coop City has about 55,000 residents in a housing complex.
Cooperatives are identified as follows "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." Co-operatives "are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of co-operative founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others."
While there are many different types of cooperatives and cooperative governance consumer cooperatives are quite common in many countries both in rural and urban settings. A consumer cooperative is owned by the members. In Western Canada consumer cooperatives often offer groceries, hardware, agricultural supplies and fuel. Credit Unions are run on basically the same principles but offer financial services. The largest consumer cooperative is the Cooperative Group in the UK. In Japan there are over 14 million members of consumer cooperatives. Switzerland also has very large consumer coops including the largest Swiss supermarket chain Migros.
Another common coop is the worker cooperative. In a worker coop it is the workers rather than the consumers of the products that own the business. The actual rules and governance vary from country to country. In India for example every employee of a worker coop must be a member of the coop and every member of the coop must also work at the coop. In the UK there are more than 400 worker cooperatives. Mondragon in Spain is a federation of worker cooperatives:
At the end of 2011 it was providing employment for 83,869 people working in 256 companies in four areas of activity: Finance, Industry, Retail and Knowledge.
There are cooperatives in various areas. For example, utility coops provide power on a cooperative basis and housing cooperatives do the same for housing. Cooperatives provide a democratic, participatory business model that serves the people who belong to it and often the community as well.