So-called political democracy is meaningless without economic democracy. That’s why we need to start, support and grow co-operative and community enterprise. (and other institutional forms of building community wealth).
We’re particularly keen to support community-led housing (especially community land trusts, housing co-ops and cohousing projects), food co-ops and energy co-ops.
So if you’re looking to start a co-op check out the Transition Enterprise Handbook (.pdf) and this collection of resources we gathered for Co-operatives London.
To learn about your legal structures options we highly recommend:
- combining Co-ops UK’s Full Select-a-Structure online tool with this guidance to the the paper-based version (.pdf) (because we think the latter better explains what some of the questions asked actually mean)
- reading of the REconomy Project’s excellent Do-ocracy Handbook
- Simple Legal and Keeping it legal (.pdf) are also good (although the latter is now slightly out of date, it still has valuable information)
We like multi-stakeholder co-operatives, in part because they are able approximate the decision-making principle that “everyone should have a say in decisions proportionate to the degree to which they are affected by them“.
In the UK our favourite sets of model rules for multi-stakeholder co-ops are those developed by Somerset Co-operative Services (hence known as the Somerset Rules) and the FairShares Association (“for multi-stakeholder co-operation in member-owned social enterprises”).
You can read on below for more on the basics of what a co-op is.
If you have any questions or need help and support starting a co-operative or community enterprise please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
What is a co-operative?
A co-operative is defined by the International Co-operative Alliance as “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 their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.
The co-operative principles are guidelines by which co-operatives put their values into practice.
1. Voluntary and Open Membership
Co-operatives 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
Co-operatives are democratic organisations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions. Men and women serving as elected representatives are accountable to the membership. In primary co-operatives members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote) and co-operatives 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 co-operative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the co-operative. 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 co-operative, possibly by setting up reserves, part of which at least would be indivisible; benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the co-operative; and supporting other activities approved by the membership.
4. Autonomy and Independence
Co-operatives 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 co-operative autonomy.
5. Education, Training and Information
Co-operatives 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. Co-operation among Co-operatives
Co-operatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the co-operative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.
7. Concern for Community
Co-operatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members.