What does it mean?
Co-ops, coops, cooperatives, co-operatives, or however you want to say it are unique business structures where members are actually owners.
You may have heard of a co-op as a place to buy fair priced natural foods. In Maine there are several food co-ops and one still in the planning stages in Portland, Maine. You may have been to co-op to buy food, but have you ever thought about what goes on behind the scenes? The members, the community, and the workers are all coming together to make it happen.
According to Wikipedia (because all the best answers come from Wikipedia, right?!) a cooperative is an autonomous association of persons who voluntarily co-operate for their mutual, social, economic, and cultural benefit.
Co-operatives include non-profit community organizations and businesses that are owned and managed by the people who use its services (a consumer co-operative) or by the people who work there (a worker co-operative) or by the people who live there (a housing co-operative).
Co-operatives are typically based on the co-operative values of "self-help, self-responsibility, democracy and equality, equity and solidarity." Co-operatives are also based on these seven co-operative principles:
- Voluntary and open membership
- Democratic member control
- Economic participation by members
- Autonomy and independence
- Education, training and information
- Cooperation among cooperatives
- Concern for community
So why are co-ops important?
Co-operatives are dedicated to the values of openness, social responsibility and caring for others. Membership is open, meaning that anyone who satisfies certain non-discriminatory conditions may join. Economic benefits are distributed proportionally to each member's level of participation in the co-operative, for instance, by a dividend on sales or purchases, rather than according to capital invested. They are distinguished from other forms of incorporation in that profit-making or economic stability are balanced by the interests of the community.
Credit unions are co-operatives
Did you know when you are a credit union member you are a part owner of the credit union? Credit unions abide by the same co-operative beliefs as listed above. Credit unions have social responsibilities and care about their members and their community. Instead of shareholders making profits, the profits of a credit union go back to the community or to the members in the form of lower rates on loans or lower and free services.
Sounds good right? To find out more about credit unions or to find one near you, click here.