The co-operative economy

There is more and more agreement that our current economic system isn’t working and that we have encouraged and rewarded short term financial speculation over long-term, sustainable wealth creation. We have focussed on competition at the expense of collaboration. We need to redress this balance and I believe that we can take huge steps towards this goal by supporting co-operatives as an alternative company model, thereby widening ownership, sharing profits and encouraging long-term, sustainable participative enterprise.

This is not just out of some idealistic sense of creating a better world, it is based on good business sense.

So I will dispel some myths.

Co-operatives are created from failed or failing business. Wrong.
Right now, in this time of austerity and recession co-operative businesses are proving to be more resilient than their counterparts. In fact 98% of all co-operatives are still in business after three years, compared with just 65% of all businesses.

Co-operatives are marginal businesses compared to shareholder owned businesses. Wrong.
Considering that Rochdale, a town just outside Manchester, in the North of England, was the birthplace of the co-operative movement, we have been remarkably slow to seize the benefits of co-operatives, compared to the rest of the world. In fact three times as many people in the world are members of co-operatives than are individual shareholders.

Co-operatives are only a small part of the global economy. Wrong.
Across the world there are 1.4 million co-operatives, having between them around 1 billion members. It is estimated that 3 billion people secure their livelihood through co-operatives. Co-operatives globally turnover a total of US$ 1.6 trillion a year.

Co-operatives can only thrive in developing or third world communities. Wrong.
42 million people in the USA get their electricity from co-operatives. 25% of the banking sector in Germany is co-operatively run. Nearly all French champagne comes from co-operatives of small vinyards. Danish bacon is entirely produced by co-operative farmers. Lurpak butter is produced and owned by a co-operative of 8,000 dairy farmers across Denmark, Sweden and Germany.

So, we can compete in the global marketplace by co-operating. Collaboration allows us to achieve more together than we ever could acting alone. We know this. When written down it is patently obvious but somehow we developed an economy that rewarded the few acting with total self-interest and acting only for short term goals. This must change.

1 Comment on The co-operative economy

  1. This is a useful article Karen; I think a lot of myths have grown up around what co-operatives are. It also reminded me of when I was growing up and how important it was to ordinary working people, the dividends that they received as a result of shopping at the local co-op shop.

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