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Landscape shot of Los Tajos Cooperative agricultural processing center, in the countryside near Alhama de Granada, Spain.

Los Tajos Cooperative agricultural processing center, in the countryside near Alhama de Granada, Spain.

Credit: Geography Photos/Universal Images Group via Getty Images


Call to action:

Create and join cooperative associations to support local communities, boost social and financial equity, provide jobs, and inspire regenerative values and policies. 

A cooperative is a formal association of people who share common economic, social, and cultural needs expressed through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise. There are approximately one billion cooperative members worldwide, representing 12 percent of the global workforce. There are many types of cooperatives, and people often interact with them every day without knowing it. Types include consumer, producer, worker, service, marketing, artisan, and housing cooperatives. There are more than three million cooperative associations worldwide. The United Nations has declared 2025 as the International Year of Cooperatives. Founded during the Industrial Revolution as a push-back against economic disparity and exploitation, the cooperative movement creates profitable and equitable economic and social systems that are practical, respectful, and regenerative.

Action Items


Learn about the history and diversity of cooperatives. Working together cooperatively has long been an important part of human endeavors. The modern cooperative movement began during the Industrial Revolution as a reaction to economic displacement and exploitation. The first formal cooperative was started in 1844 by the Rochdale Pioneers in England when weavers and tradesmen started a cooperative society to sell their goods. Based on business principles, the Rochdale Cooperative helped provide their community with quality goods that they might otherwise be unable to afford. From that beginning the International Cooperative Alliance was established in 1895 to broaden the reach of the cooperative movement. It is still the leading institution uniting and representing cooperative associations globally. There are many areas of daily community and economic life where cooperatives (also called co-ops and identified by their internet address .coop) play a vital role, including:

Learn about the core principles, practices, and benefits of cooperatives. The International Cooperative Alliance, the oldest non-governmental organization in the world that formally represents cooperatives, defines a cooperative as an organization that works to realize the common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations of its members and not strictly for the profit of owners and shareholders. The ICA has outlined the seven core principles that are shared by cooperatives:

  • Voluntary and Open Membership. Cooperatives are voluntary organizations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership.
  • Democratic Member Control. Cooperatives are democratic organizations 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. Cooperative members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote).
  • Member Economic Participation. Members contribute equitably to and democratically control the capital of their cooperative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the cooperative. Members can receive limited compensation on capital subscribed as a condition of membership. Members allocate surpluses for any or all of the following purposes: developing their cooperative, possibly by setting up reserves, part of which at least would be indivisible; benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the cooperative; and supporting other activities approved by the membership.
  • Autonomy and Independence. Cooperatives are autonomous organizations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their cooperative autonomy.
  • Education, Training, and Information. Cooperatives provide education and training for their members. They elect 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 cooperatives.
  • Cooperation among Cooperatives. Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional, and international structures.
  • Concern for Community. Cooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members. 

Join or start a cooperative (co-op). There are over three million active cooperatives worldwide, with the majority of them being small, local initiatives. An easy way to become part of the movement is to find a cooperative in your area and join. If there are no cooperatives that serve your needs, why not start one! Here are some common areas where cooperatives thrive and offer ways to get involved or opportunities for starting a cooperative:



Farmer-owned co-ops help producer-members market and process their crops and livestock and secure needed production supplies and services. Compared to individual farmers, co-op members are more economically protected and face lower risks. In the United States, the National Council of Farmers Cooperatives works to advance the business and policy interests of farmers, aiming to create and maintain coops.

Business Owners

The business co-op model states that a business is most ethically and equitably run if it is managed by the people most directly involved in it. Successful cooperatives, like Hotels, which is one of the largest hotel chains in the world, use experienced advisors effectively and maintain excellent communication between members. According to the Democracy at Work Institute, employee-owned businesses see higher productivity levels and lower employee turnover, helping to make the decision to transition an existing business to a cooperative model based on human and community benefit rather than pure profit.


Support the development of cooperatives through grants and funding. Governmental bodies have a major impact on the process of forming a cooperative. Legislation, such as the Inflation Reduction Act in the United States, can offer key areas of support for energy cooperatives to introduce renewable energy into their systems, including tax credits, rebates on construction costs, and a fund to help rural cooperatives purchase renewable energy systems. City and local governments can play a large role in supporting cooperatives in their communities through seed funding, grants, and technical assistance, like these projects in the United States. The Cooperative Incentive Scheme in South Africa offers matching grants to cooperative startups, as its government sees cooperatives as the nation’s well-being. In India, the government is aiming to help fund the creation of over 1600 farmer cooperatives to strengthen the rural economy while also offering all cooperatives lower tax rates. The National Cooperative Bank in the United States is an excellent example of a government-funded lending institution that is mandated to lend to farmers.

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