The starting point for understanding co-ops is to find out what most members want from their mutual enterprises. Based on my own long experience, members want their co-op to help them get a:
- Better deal
- Better organization*
- Better future
*An organization that can always be relied upon to act in the best interest of its members.
It is important to stress that a ‘better deal’ does not just mean ‘better’ solely in financial terms, it means ‘better’ when measured against any criteria that reflect the outcomes that its members deem to be of value.
Co-ops – the benefits
The impact of co-ops on the lives of their members depends upon both the nature of the conditions facing them and the existing quality of their lives. At the top end of the scale of impact, there are co-ops formed to address gross injustice within a market. In these circumstances, their intervention usually results in transforming the lives of their members. For example, when poor farmers are not getting anything like a fair price for their produce, when adulterated foodstuffs at exorbitant prices are the only goods available to consumers, when there is no access to healthcare, or where other essential services are unavailable. Also, where unscrupulous traders, moneylenders, and property-owners are exploiting vulnerable people.
Co-ops can help to make life a lot better in different ways for masses of people worldwide. In all cases, provided they are run properly, co-ops can furnish their members with an enhanced quality-of-life and much greater control over their own lives and livelihoods.
If you want to know more about the wide range of different types of self-help enterprises view or download a PDF document that lists many of the different types and activities of this form of enterprise,
Co-ops – work in the ‘real’ economy
The advantages of co-ops include that the needs of their members fuel them, they operate entirely within the ‘real economy’ and have a geographical home (a commitment to a specific place). They can provide the opportunity for economic action when business investors are moribund because co-ops are designed to deliver whatever outcomes their membership determines. Such issues can include getting a better deal, which can mean a more honest deal and a fairer deal for members which can be interpreted to mean better housing, better health, a better education, a decent job, or securing access to services when commercial businesses are not interested.
Co-ops empower their members to respond positively to changing conditions, helping them to build their resilience, equipping them to face future changes that will surely come. This contrasts with the approach of many commercial businesses that regularly make their profits by exploiting the weaknesses of their customers, workers, and suppliers.