What is a Co-op?
A co-op is an organization that is owned by its members and is designed to provide services to its members. Being involved in a co-operative usually means that people are “working together for a common goal or purpose”. The members of co-ops use the services or products of the co-op and control what the co-op does. There are many different kinds of co-ops, and there are more than 1,200 co-ops and credit unions in Saskatchewan.
What is a Credit Union?
A credit union is a financial co-operative owned and controlled by its members. Credit unions provide financial services similar to banks and trust companies (such as savings and chequing accounts, term deposits, mutual funds and loans). A credit union is composed of people who have a “bond of association” that provides the basic criteria for membership. Many credit unions exist because the members share a common interest as a community, employee group, church or cultural association.
Why Do People Form Co-ops?
- Because people feel no power in the marketplace. Private businesses are mostly concerned with their own profit, so they sometimes ignore the needs and wants of the customer. The customer has very little power to change or improve things. In a co-operative, members are the owners. They control the co-op. They have the power.
- Because no one is providing a service they all need. By getting together to form a co-operative, they can provide themselves with that service.
- Because their jobs or their communities would disappear if they did not join together to save them. Often a business will close down for good “business reasons,” but not for good “people reasons.” In a co-operative, people are the business. The people involved in the co-operative work for the benefit of the co-operative, and their community.
- Because they want to keep the control and profits of a business in the community. Often a business is owned by people who never use its services. They may never even see the business, but they benefit from it. A co-operative is locally owned and controlled, and the profits stay in the community.
Co-ops are formed for many different reasons and to do many different things:
- A co-op can provide things to its members – like a food store, or farm equipment supply store.
- A co-op can provide a service to its members – like a community health clinic, or a childcare co-op.
- Co-ops can do other things – like credit unions, where members do banking, or a worker co-op, where the workers own the business.
Profits from co-ops are given back to their members, based on how much they have used the co-op. Because co-ops are owned by their members and part of the profits are given back to them, more money comes back to the members of co-ops (and the communities they live in) – when something is bought at the co-op, members sometimes pay less than non-members, and at the end of the year, profits are given back to members.
The co-operative principles are guidelines by which co-operatives put
their values into practise.
- Voluntary and Open Membership: Co-operatives are open to everyone who wants to join, as long as are willing to accept the responsibilities of membership – which are different for every co-op.
- Democratic Member Control: Co-operatives are controlled by their members who actively participate in making decisions. Co-ops make decisions based on “one member, one vote”.
- Member Economic Participation: Members contribute money to the co-op and also make decisions about how the money within the co-op is used. Sometimes profits are used to make the co-op better, sometimes the profits are given back to the members (based on how much they have used the co-op), and sometimes profits are used for other things that the members decide on.
- Autonomy and Independence: Co-ops are controlled and led by their members. If they work with others, including governments, they only do it if their co-op is still controlled by their members.
- Education, Training and Information: Co-ops provide education and training for their members, Board of Directors, and employees. They tell people - especially young people - about co-ops and what co-ops do.
- Co-operation among Co-operatives: Co-ops work together and support each other.
- Concern for Community: Co-ops do things to build and support their communities, in ways their members think important.
Adapted from the statement on the Co-operative Identity,
Adopted in Manchester (UK), 23 September 1995