Cooperatives, in their various forms, promote the fullest possible participation in the economic and social development of all people, including women, youth, older persons, persons with disabilities and indigenous peoples, are becoming a major factor of economic and social development and contribute to the eradication of poverty”. UN Resolution on the International Year of Cooperatives 2012
The role of cooperatives for sustainable development has been reaffirmed by the international community in numerous occasions, including Reccomandation n.193 of the International Labour Organization (ILO), the EU's New European Consensus on Development, and at the Italian level also by the Law on International Cooperation for Development (L.125/2014).
The contribution of cooperative enterprises to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals has been analysed, among others, by COPAC (United Nations Committee on the Promotion and Development of Cooperatives) in Policy briefs that also present case studies from around the world.
What is a cooperative?
A cooperative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet theircommon economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise. (International Cooperative Alliance - ICA - 1995).
Cooperatives are therefore enterprises that put the person at the center of their activity, with the aim of responding to a need - be it work, a service, a good - through the principle of mutuality, which regulates the relationship of exchange between member and cooperative.
Depending on the type of mutualistic exchange, there are three types of cooperatives:
- user cooperatives
- production and work cooperatives
- contribution cooperatives
The Cooperative Principles
The Declaration of Cooperative Identity, signed by the Probi Pioneers of Rochdale in 1844 and periodically revised by the International Alliance of Cooperatives, defines the 7 cooperative principles, i.e. the guidelines with which cooperatives put their values into practice, regardless of the cultural and regulatory differences specific to each country.
- Voluntary and open membership
Cooperatives are voluntary organisations, open to all persons able to use their servicesand willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.
- Democratic member control
Cooperatives are democratic organisations 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. In primary cooperatives, members have equal voting rights – one member, one vote – and cooperatives at other levels are also organised in a democratic manner
- Member economic participation
Members contribute equally to, and democratically control, the capital of their cooperative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the cooperative. They usually receive limited compensation, if any, 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, self-help organisations controlled by their members. If they enter to agreements with other organisations, 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, elected representatives, managers and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperatives. They inform the general public – particularly youngpeople and opinion leaders – about the nature and benefits of cooperation.
- 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
While focusing on member needs, cooperatives must work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies accepted by their members.