Co-op Education: Seven Cooperative Principles

Image from Willy Street Co-op

We often mention the Seven Cooperative principles in our presentations and reference them our on our website, but we wanted to take a moment and explain how the Assabet Village Co-op Market put the principles into practice.  

We shared this series on Facebook this past spring, they have been updated to reflect examples as relevant.

1. Voluntary and Open Membership

Cooperatives are voluntary organizations, open to all people able to use its services and willing to accept the rights and responsibilities of membership, without discrimination.

How do we put this principle into practice?   Membership is open to any individual, 18 years or older, who is willing to accept the benefits and responsibilities of Membership.  As we do not have a store yet, benefits include discounts to our classes offered, and additional discounts through our local partners as offered.  We have no work requirement, but we always welcome volunteers.

And once the store is open, it will be open for all to shop!  But increasing ownership helps to bring us closer to our goal of opening a store, as every new Owner who joins demonstrates the community’s commitment to the Co-op. (and if you haven’t become an owner yet, consider joining our community today!)

2. Democratic Member Control

Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members—those who buy the goods or use the services of the cooperative, and who actively participate in setting policies and making decisions. One member = one vote.

At the time when the Rochdale Pioneers were founded, only landowners had the right to vote.  The cooperative was a way to introduce democracy; one way this was addressed was to build housing cooperatives to claim land ownership, and therefore the right to vote.

How do we put this principle into practice?  The most obvious one is that as an Owner, your Ownership share grants you one vote. But democracy also means having your voice heard, which is why we seek feedback and comments from our Owners.

3. Member Economic Participation

Members contribute equally to, and democratically control, the capital of the cooperative. Profits are distributed back to members in proportion to the business they conduct with the cooperative rather than on the capital invested.

As a Co-op in the startup phase, we need money to get the doors open.  Our capital investments, starting with Owner equity, gives us the financing we will need once we find a location, start buildout, hire staff, purchase inventory etc.  This principle also gives guidance on how to manage the Co-op once the store is profitable, such as patronage rebates, reinvestment, and reserve back to the Co-op, or other activities approved by the Owners, such as giving back to the community.

4. Autonomy and Independence

Cooperatives are autonomous organizations controlled by their members. If the co-op enters into agreements with other organizations or raises capital from external sources, they do so based on terms that ensure democratic control by the members and maintain the cooperative’s autonomy.

When the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) updated the Cooperative Principles in 1996, Autonomy and Independence as one of the two new principles added.  These principles seek to provide a framework for cooperatives, without defining goals or purposes for co-ops. Cooperatives develop and maintain their own identities, as defined by their members through the democratic process.  While the co-operatives work with other businesses, they build those relationships based on their identity.

5. Education, Training, and Information

Cooperatives provide education and training for members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperative. They also inform the general public about the nature and benefits of cooperatives.

Though we have yet to open our doors, we have done our best to put Cooperative principle 5 into action, starting with our classes! In the past we’ve offered Square food Gardening, Foraging for Mushrooms and Core Movement Integration, among others.  We also try to educate on the benefits of co-ops through our regular social media & email updates.  This past October we also offered a screening of Food for Change, a documentary about the history of food co-ops in America.  If you missed the film or would like to watch it again, it is available on demand for rental:

6. Co-operation among Co-operatives

Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together.

This past spring, 3 of our board members attended the Up & Coming conference in Bloomington, IN.  Due to the popularity of the conference, the grant for which we had applied only covered a portion of our conference.  City Market in Burlington VT has graciously given us a donation to help us cover additional conference costs! This extends beyond food co-ops as well!  We’ve received donations from Cabot Creamery and Equal Exchange of their delicious products to serve at our Owners meetings and other events.

7. Concern for Community

While focusing on member needs, cooperatives work for the sustainable development of communities through policies and programs accepted by the members.

While our store is still in the planning stages, we’re already working on our goals of sourcing local when possible, reaching out to local farms & producers so we’re ready once the doors are ready to open. Supporting local keeps money in the community, plus the environmental impact of lesser transportation requirements.