Each year the United Nations (U.N) identifies a different issue to build awareness among people. 2011 was celebrated as the Year of the Forests. The U.N has declared 2012 as the International Year of the Cooperatives (IYC). Through celebrations around the world this year, the IYC hopes to raise public awareness about cooperatives and the important role they play in our society.
What are cooperatives, and why are they important? Let’s take a closer look.
“Co-operative” originates from the word “co-operate” or to work together. We have all seen the power of teamwork in sports teams, classrooms and in family units. From early times, people have realized that working together gives teams strength and power to achieve common goals.
The co-op movement started in 1840's England during the height of the industrial revolution. Companies were growing, but their employees were living and working in poor conditions. The workers decided to do something about it. They combined their money to buy food in large quantities which was distributed among members. They were able to negotiate good deals and saved money. The group had a common cause and the co-op movement was born.
These days, co-ops are common among farmers, health care providers, home owners and consumers. An example of a co-op in your neighborhood is Sam's Club or Costco. Only members who pay an annual membership fee, can shop at the club. By buying as a group, Sam's Club can get items at low prices, and save on shipping and packaging costs. The saving is passed on to the club members.
When people work together, not only do they share ideas and resolve disputes, they are also able to solve problems faced by the group from the outside. For instance, chocolate manufacturers could force individual cocoa famers to sell their produce at a low price, but when the farmers sold as a group, they could demand better prices for their product.
Unity is strength
A co-op is built on the principles of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy and equality of its members. Moral values such as honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others are considered important. Anyone can become a member of a co-op as long as they pay a fee, and each person has a vote in decisions made by the co-op. Besides being independent, co-ops create connections within the community.
In many countries, co-ops have been responsible for providing safe, quality food to members, and employment and help to the local community. Over 80 million people are members of co-ops, providing over 100 million jobs worldwide
Let’s celebrate the contribution of co-ops. What do you think of the co-op movement? Tell us about the ways in which co-ops are making a difference in your community.