Entry #28 Cooperatives matter! Can you name one?

Written by: Paulette Stenzel

Primary Source: MariposaPaulette


Can you name a cooperative?  A presenter at the 2014 International Summit of Cooperatives in Quebec Canada (October 5-9, 2014) reported that seventy–eight percent (78%) of those people she surveyed in various countries could not name even one cooperative.   That lack of familiarity is likely to change!

I have just returned from that Summit, which was attended by over 3,500 people from more than 85 countries, and I am excited by what I learned through my interactions with other participants.   Cooperatives are member-owned, democratically-controlled organizations that meet multiple environmental, economic, and social challenges as they provide goods and services.  Those who participated in the Summit share a vision of a world in which cooperatives play an increasingly important role as builders of a sustainable economy.

The Summit was a follow-up to the United Nations–sponsored 2012 Year of the Decade, which culminated with issuance of the “Blueprint for a Co-0perative Decade.”  The Blueprint is a plan to increase public awareness and understanding of cooperatives, promote the formation and growth of cooperatives, and encourage governments to adopt laws and policies to support cooperatives.

If you are from the United States, you may be familiar with one or more cooperatives without realizing it.  For example, credit unions are member-owned cooperatives, and there are housing and food cooperative throughout the country.    Or, you could probably have heard of one or more of the following cooperatives:  Land O’Lakes, Ocean Spray; Blue Diamond Growers (walnuts); Ace Hardware; Sunkist Growers, Inc.; Welch’s (Welch Foods, Inc.);  and REI (sporting goods).   CHS, Inc., the largest U.S.-based cooperative, is owned by farmers, ranchers, and co-operatives from across the nation.   Over 100 million people belong to 47,000 cooperatives in the U.S., and those cooperatives provide goods and services in nearly every sector of the economy.

Cooperatives are far more prevalent around the world as compared to the United States.   According to the Worldwatch Institute, as of 2012, cooperatives had 1 billion members around the world.  In India, 67% of rural households are served by cooperatives, and 40% of households in Africa belong to one.  Mondragon is one of the most well-known cooperatives in Europe and beyond.  It is the largest business group in the Basque Country and seventh largest industrial group in Spain.  Mondragon includes 74,060 employees working in 257 businesses and cooperatives, and it has subsidiaries and offices in 41 countries.

Next time someone asks you to name a cooperative, you will be able to do so.  Meanwhile, here are two websites to help you learn more:   (1) the Quebec 2014 International Summit of Cooperatives:   http://www.intlsummit.coop/cms/en_CA/sites/somint/home.html, and (2) the International Cooperative Alliance:  http://ica.coop/.

Copyright ©2014 by Paulette L. Stenzel

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Paulette Stenzel
I am a mom, teacher, learner, writer, lawyer, violinist, environmentalist in process, traveler, and avid reader. My professional title is Professor of Sustainability and International Business Law, and my passions are interwoven with my professional work in sustainability, Fair Trade, microfinance, and related areas.