In a previous post, we offered an official definition of a cooperative as, “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.” This post (second of three) will break down the lexicon with a bit more descriptive flourish.
Autonomous – A cooperative is independent in its decision-making. It is not affiliated with or beholden to a corporation or a parent company and its operation is self-contained (though certainly informed by other similar organizations) and self-governing.
Association – An association, for these purposes, is a structured group formed for a common purpose in which the members conceive and agree to abide by certain rules that benefit the organization and its participants.
Persons – Cooperatively engaged persons are any human beings who have the agency and desire to work together.
United – The persons are united in that they work together for a common goal.
Voluntarily – The association of persons is voluntary in that it is formed and governed by the purposes of the organization and not randomly or coercively by other types of ties or structures.
Common – Shared.
Economic – Cooperative economies seek to address the injustices and inequalities often inherent to other forms of exchange and work to replace those forms with fair, democratic, and ecologically-minded resource production, sharing, and distribution.
Social – Cooperatives focus on relational values, prioritizing human connections with other humans, species, and the planet over profit, consumption, and competition.
Cultural – Cooperatives confront norms that are often hidden, objectionable, or taken for granted (default) by celebrating the skills and contributions of diverse individuals and valuing collaboration among all people, regardless of background, experience, or historical positioning.
Needs – Cooperatives emphasize needs over wants, generally focusing on sustenance and production for necessity and betterment of society and the environment as a whole.
Aspirations – While needs are often fairly concrete, aspirations tend to be hopes for what may transpire in the future or goals that can be met. Cooperatives facilitate the meeting of aspirations for just employment, equitable distribution of resources, and environmental regeneration.
Jointly-owned – All participants in a cooperative own an equal share in the production and distribution of resources. Unlike corporate shares, cooperative shares are not based on profit-and-risk speculation subject to market fluctuations and cannot be sold, though they are returned upon request. Cooperative shares are also differentiated from membership fees in that they truly comprise an equity partnership among participants who all benefit when the cooperative is healthy.
Democratically-controlled – One share equals one vote. Cooperative democracies elect representation in the form of board members or committee leaders and also vote on policy, by-laws and amendments, and organizational changes.
Enterprise – An enterprise is a project or a program that requires planning, engagement, and creative participation. No two cooperatives are exactly the same and each coop is a function of the imagination, character, and collaborative spirit of its owners.