Each October, cooperatives all across America celebrate the role, accomplishments and contributions of our nation’s co-ops. Celebrating Co-op Month started in Minnesota in 1948, and the month-long event gives cooperatives a chance to come together and share what we do.
This year, the Co-op Month celebration is part of a building wave of opportunity to share the cooperative message on an unprecedented scale in the United Nations’ International Year of Cooperatives, set for 2012. The theme of the 2011 Co-op Month celebration and that of the International Year is the same: “Cooperative Enterprises Build a Better World.” The theme reflects the contributions that cooperatives make to their members and communities.
The UN is interested in co-ops because of their potential to foster economic development and build social capital. Cooperatives drive economic growth as local businesses that keep wealth in the community.
Cooperatives also build a better world by providing the opportunity for people to practice real grassroots democracy. Co-ops are democratically-controlled enterprises that exist to serve their members, whether those are the customers, employees or the local community.
Unlike most enterprises where control is tied to the level of investment, co-ops are governed on the basis of one member, one vote. So, as well as getting the products and services they need, members help shape the decisions their cooperative makes. And rather than rewarding outside investors, a cooperative shares its profits among the members.
But like other enterprises, cooperatives seek to trade successfully — they are businesses, not charities, after all. Members, such as farmers or hardware store owners, food aficionados or taxi drivers, can often do better working together.
This mix of self-help and mutual aid has made cooperatives an international force for good. Across the United States, cooperatives are owned by more than 130 million people — and these numbers are growing. Worldwide, 100 million people are employed by cooperatives, while 800 million are members.
Here is a small sample:
- Three-quarters of the US landmass is powered by electric co-ops, which went where investor-owned utilities would not go.
- Kenyan farmers trade their coffee for a fair price only because they are members of cooperatives.
- In Spain, the fans of Barcelona have a say in their football club because it’s owned by them.
In the United States, cooperatives will celebrate Co-op Month throughout October. This year, Co-op Month is being coordinated with other events including Co-op Week – which is scheduled for Oct. 16-22 and features many open house events – and International Credit Union Day on Oct. 20
This year’s Co-op Month events include a celebration hosted by the US Department of Agriculture on Oct. 19 in Washington, D.C. At this event in the department’s headquarters, USDA staff will talk about co-ops and recent co-op study results as well as recognize the contributions cooperatives in various sectors have made to their communities and the economy.
Information about co-ops is available anywhere and anytime on the Internet. The National Cooperative Business Association’s website at http://www.ncba.coopis a good starting point for research. Another, www.go.coop, provides stories of how co-ops are changing lives. Finally, www.2012.coop is the central online source for information about the International Year of Cooperatives.
Cooperatives are ethical businesses, born out of self-help and responsibility, dedicated to serving the needs of their member-owners. The seven cooperative principles guide cooperatives’ structure, governance and efforts. It’s not just that a co-op is a “good citizen.” Any enterprise can choose to do that. It’s that a co-op is a good citizen because it’s a cooperative.
That’s an enterprise worth celebrating.