Last week I attended a workshop on co-operatives. I learned two things that surprised me.
The first was that being a co-operative is separate from the legal structure of the business. You can be a limited company, a partnership, a community interest company etc, and also be a co-operative.
The second was the range of forms that co-operative membership can take. Membership can be restricted to workers or expanded to include customers, volunteers, the community (locally, or according to interest). It’s even possible to set up a co-operative consortium of companies.
The critical components are:
Voluntary and open membership
Democratic member control (one member one vote)
Member economic participation
Autonomy and independence.
Not at all suprising then that co-operatives often outperform and outlast traditional businesses.
But the most encouraging thing for me, was the realisation that transitioning a business to a co-operative model could be relatively straightforward - opening up some new and interesting options for exit, while at the same time ensuring a business continues as the founder’s legacy.