Co-ops & mutuals
CO-OPERATIVES AND MUTUALS
Genuine co-ops & mutuals are based upon the practice of ‘self-help and mutual-help’, which means that members work together to get a better deal both for themselves and for all other members. Members of co-ops & mutuals take joint-action to improve their own situation, rather than just hoping that a commercial business, a charity or the state will do something for them to improve their situation. It is most important to understand that co-ops & mutuals are independent, self-governing enterprises, which are not bound to follow any particular doctrine or dogma. Successful co-ops & mutuals function by operating a member-controlled model of enterprise
"Whether we believe that co-operatives and mutuals simply have a useful part to play in any market economy or that they have a much more significant role to play in terms of supporting social change within society, it is equally important that we significantly improve their effectiveness*"
Whilst there are very many successful co-ops & mutuals, there are also far too many that fail to reach their full potential in terms of delivering outstanding benefits to their members. Others have in effect been taken-over by self-interested groups, or even worse have been demutualised primarily to the benefit of senior executives and other professional groups.
* Effectiveness to be measured in terms of their capacity to achieve their true purpose and the outcomes required by their members
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The member-controlled enterprise model
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- the beautiful idea
- the challenge of the 21st. Century
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Forms, types and activities
Co-ops & mutuals operate successfully in almost every country of the world, and range from micro-enterprises (involving a handful of people) to enterprises that can count their turnover in multi-millions. In most countries co-ops & mutuals are operating within a wide range of different economic sectors – in fact it is difficult to imagine any economic activity that isn’t undertaken by a co-operative somewhere. Almost universally, groups of farmers have formed their own enterprises to market their produce and to provide themselves with farming inputs and other services. Other major areas of involvement for co-ops & mutuals include: retailing and wholesaling, credit and banking, insurance, transport, health-care and housing, small-scale industry and so on.
There are many different versions of co-ops & mutuals, certain forms and types are more prevalent in some countries than in others. Among the most universal activities of co-ops & mutuals are: community enterprises, agriculture and horticulture co-operatives, retail co-operatives, credit unions, building societies, friendly societies, workers’ co-operatives, community-benefit societies, mutual insurance societies, and co-operatives of independent retailers – such as pharmacists, food retailers, etc. Throughout this website the ‘catch all’ term co-ops & mutuals is used to encompass all forms of co-operative and mutual enterprise.
Simple yet complex
Working together in a co-ops & mutuals is based upon a very simple idea, however, in practice running them successfully is often most challenging. Unfortunately, most people will not have received the kind of education or training that could have adequately prepared them for such activities. If co-ops and mutuals are to achieve their full potential then all of the people involved need to be clear as to the true purpose of their enterprise and how to achieve it in practice, which requires having a full understanding of the member-controlled enterprise model.
Co-operatives and mutuals - to be valued for what they deliver
last updated: February 2012 © Edgar Parnell 2012