For hundreds of years, cooperatives have served as a way for people empower themselves by pooling their resources and expertise. Though the principles of cooperation existed long before the first cooperative organization, the movement is said to have begun in Europe in the early 1800s. During the industrial revolution, mechanization lowered the economic value of people’s time and expertise. In order to maintain their livelihoods, people joined together in cooperatives.
“A cooperative is 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.” – The Statement on the Cooperative Identity
Though individual cooperatives have their specific values, cooperatives are based on the values of solidarity, equity, equality, democracy, self-responsibility, and self-help.
African American communities have long championed the cooperative movement. Having been oppressed throughout the entire history of the United States, African Americans found access to economic opportunities and the ability to benefit the common good of their communities through the formation of cooperatives.
Throughout the United States, one can find cooperatives in most communities. Credit unions, food cooperatives, agricultural/farmer cooperatives, housing cooperatives, energy cooperatives, insurance cooperatives, retail cooperatives… the list goes on. In all of these, the organization is owned by its members. Membership types vary in different cooperatives. Sometimes member-owners are the consumers, such as in credit unions and housing cooperatives. Sometimes they are the workers, like in many consulting or brewing cooperatives. Members can also be investors, organizations (instead of individuals), and a mix of all of the above.
Cooperatives share seven internationally agreed principles. These include: