A cooperative is “an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.” (ICA, Statement on the Cooperative Identity).
As people-centered businesses owned and run by their members, cooperatives share characteristics of both enterprises and associations.
They operate following internationally agreed values and principles, allowing people to work together and develop sustainable businesses, while the economic and social benefits generated through their activity stay in the community.
Cooperatives play a critical role in local inclusive and sustainable development.
At least 12% of people on earth is a cooperator of any of the 3 million cooperatives on earth. Cooperatives provide jobs or work opportunities to 10% of the employed population. (World Cooperative Monitor)
They are a powerful tool for women empowerment, by:
Some countries have specific women empowerment policies such as gender quotas for cooperatives.
* See DIOMCOOP, a Spanish multi-stakeholder cooperative set up Barcelona, 2017, to support vulnerable migrant street sellers, which now provides a variety of services and even has its own fashion brand – Diambaar.
Based on values and principles:
Source: ICA, Statement on the Cooperative Identity
Cooperatives are very diverse: from small enterprises, owned by their members (a minimum number of members can be imposed by national regulations) to large banks owned by their clients. The most (but not only) common criteria to help classifying cooperatives:
Although they serve the interests of their members and those of the community, cooperatives are businesses, aiming to produce profit (which is shared among the members or reinvested).
As any enterprise, the activities of a cooperation need to be directed and controlled.
Managing a cooperation brings several specific challenges compared to other types of enterprises.
The Wazo cooperative was established in Spain to solve issues faced by rural communities there as well as to provide these areas with economic and employment prospects.
The cooperative is co-founded and presided by Marta Lozano Molano, a successful musician and composer who decided to return to her homeland in Extremadura (Spain) to support her community and focus on composing social music.
Since 2015, Wazo Coop has promoted local sustainable development in rural and sparsely populated regions using the creative economy as a platform. In order to link distant cooperatives and stakeholders, it has facilitated access to innovation and digitization. It has also facilitated the development of jobs, particularly for young people and residents of rural areas.
One such instance is the EU Smart Composer initiative, which uses a methodology to help VET music instructors support students who write new music and to provide them the opportunity to learn new skills in branding, business, and digital marketing.
Early in 2018, the AgroAlim Predesti Cooperative was founded as a component of the WorldVision and Sodexo Romania-led "Empowering Women in Need" project.
The goal of this initiative was to help rural women living in tough circumstances, such as moms raising their children alone, those who have never had a job, or were currently unemployed, day laborers.
In order to process and preserve the fruit and vegetables cultivated locally, the cooperative's headquarters were equipped with specific production machinery. Items like sauce jars, pepper sauces, pickles in vinegar and brine, and many more traditional products are made here.
Preserves and canned vegetables are produced only for the already existing customer network - the shelf life is not very long because they are made using only traditional recipes and ingredients, without additives.
Now it operates its own shop and cafeteria in the main square of Agios Giorgios village, where tourists can taste various desserts, jams, traditional pastry delights, homemade liqueurs, and appetizers that go with the local tsipouro.
Recently, the cooperative set up a laboratory, allowing for larger production, but without sacrificing the traditional spirit – every product is natural, created only with local fruits and herbs, free of additives.
It also provides catering services and organizes larger events, banquets and meals upon request, and operates a network of traditional guest houses for tourists.
Cooperative, cooperative governance, cooperative union, agri-tourist cooperative, informal work, women empowerment
- Understand what cooperatives are, their distinctive features, values, principles, types and development opportunities they offer
- Know the basics of cooperative governance and the multiple roles of a cooperative manager
- Take the first steps to set-up a cooperative, using MORE hands-on tools, guidelines and practical information
This module is an introduction to the basics of cooperative entrepreneurship.
It will help you get a broader view on what cooperatives are, how they work and how they can support women and rural development.
The first two units are dedicated to the more ‘theoretical’ aspects of cooperative characteristics and cooperative governance, while the third unit provides 3 real-life examples of successful women-led cooperatives in rural areas from EU countries and a small step-by-step guide on how to set up a cooperative.
A simple template which can be used either as a worksheet for self-study or pre-filled by the trainer will support you identify the formal requirements to consider when setting up a cooperative in your country.
The Guidance Notes on Cooperative Principles, elaborated by the International Co-operative Alliance, provide practical advice on the implementation and practical application of the cooperative principles. They are available in several languages, including English, Spanish and Greek, on ICA’s website:
Worksheet Template: Formal requirements to set up a Cooperative
Bouchard, M. et al.(2020), Statistics on Cooperatives: Concepts, classification, work and economic contribution measurement, International Labour Office (ILO), Geneva, available at: https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---ed_emp/---emp_ent/---coop/documents/publication/wcms_760710.pdf
Cooperatives Europe, What is a cooperative?, https://coopseurope.coop/what-cooperative/
European Parliamentary Research Service. (2019), Cooperatives: Characteristics, activities, status, challenges, https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/BRIE/2019/635541/EPRS_BRI(2019)635541_EN.pdf;
Fici, A. (2012), Cooperative identity and the law, Euricse Working Paper, N.023, WP 23_12 Fici (euricse.eu)
International Cooperative Alliance with the scientific and technical support of the European Research Institute on Cooperative and Social Enterprises (Euricse), 2021 World Cooperative Monitor – Executive Summary, https://monitor.coop/sites/default/files/2021-11/Executive%20Summary%20WCM%202021.pdf
International Cooperative Alliance, What is a cooperative?, https://www.ica.coop/en/cooperatives/what-is-a-cooperative
International Labour Organization. (2012), My.COOP Managing your agricultural cooperatives, https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/cooperatives/publications/WCMS_644824/lang--en/index.htm
International Labour Organization. (2017), Spotlight Interviews with Co-operators: Rural cooperative works to preserve the cultural heritage of Malta, https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/cooperatives/news/WCMS_776503/lang--en/index.htm
International Labour Organization. (2018), Role of cooperatives in rural women empowerment discussed during a side event at CSW62 in NY with ILO participating for COPAC, https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/cooperatives/news/WCMS_623984/lang--en/index.htm
International Labour Organization. (2021), Spotlight Interviews with Co-operators: Marta Lozano Molano, Founding Member of Wazo Cooperative, https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/cooperatives/news/WCMS_776503/lang--en/index.htm
Women's Agritourism Cooperative of Zagora / Pelion, https://www.agrosweet.gr/