A co-operative is a different way of doing business. As such, the co-op model can be used by many types of organizations, non-profit or for-profit. A key difference between a traditional structure and a co-op’s structure comes in the order of priorities which, for a co-op, are to first meet the needs of its membership in a productive, self-sufficient and socially responsible manner.
A growing number of people in Canada, and around the world are recognizing the benefits of doing business the co-op way and although every co-op is unique, here are five key types:
- Producer co-operatives: Some co-operatives process and market their members’ products and services directly while others may also sell the input necessary to their members’ economic activities. Examples: Agriculture co-operatives, pooling of equipment, advisory services, etc.
- Multi-stakeholder co-operatives: The membership of these co-operatives is made of different categories of members who share a common interest in the organization. Examples: home care services, health services, community services, etc.
- Worker co-operatives: The purpose of these co-operatives is to provide their members with work by operating an enterprise. The co-operatives are owned by their employee members. Examples: forestry, leisure, production and manufacturing, tourism, communications and marketing, etc.
- Worker-Shareholder co-operatives: These are incorporated co-operatives that hold partial ownership of the business in which the co-op’s members are employed. Because of its share capital, the co-operative may participate in the management of the business and the workers may influence work organization. Examples: production and manufacturing, technology, etc.
- Consumer co-operatives: They provide their members with goods and services for their personal use. Examples: Food, credit unions, housing, insurance co-operatives, etc
There are different ways to categorize co-operatives.
Today, about 10 million people are members of one or more of the 10,000 plus co-ops and credit unions in Canada, and these numbers are growing because people recognize the value in bottom-up influence as opposed to top-down control.