Co-Operation

Members of the fishermen's cooperative (Gyogyo kyodo kumiai, 漁業協同組合)  Gpwitteveen [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

Members of the fishermen's cooperative (Gyogyo kyodo kumiai, 漁業協同組合) Gpwitteveen [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

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.