Can you imagine a world where all businesses are owned and directly controlled by the people who depend on them for employment or essential goods and services? While we may not be living in that world today, cooperatives have already built such a reality for hundreds of millions of people across the globe.
October is National Co-op Month in the United States, when people across the country will be celebrating the cooperative movement’s history and economic impact on communities nationwide. According to the Co-op Month website, “the annual awareness month provides a key opportunity to reflect on the legacy of cooperative impact and celebrate the many ways co-ops are building better businesses, better communities and, ultimately, a better world.” Fittingly, this year’s theme for the month is Cooperatives Build.
Co-ops are businesses owned and run by and for their members — which can include employees, customers, or others who are involved in the enterprise. Those members control how it operates and share the profits of the business. The most common types of co-ops are groceries, farms, home care services, or financial institutions, but they exist in nearly every industry.
Co-ops have been around for hundreds of years. However, as wealth inequality has grown worse in most developed countries, widening to its highest level in 30 years, major institutions including the United Nations, the International Labor Organization, the U.S. government, and a growing number of cities have recently begun to recognize the cooperative model’s potential to create a more fair, sustainable, and equitable economy. Senior Vice President of the United Nation’s 2030 Development Agenda, Mahmoud Mohieldin, recently argued in the Huffington Post that to help end poverty, promote peace, and preserve the planet for future generations, “we need to take advantage of the power of cooperatives.”
Several associations have come together to plan this year’s celebrations to raise awareness about cooperative’s potential to transform the U.S. economy including the Cooperative Communicators Association (CCA), National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, National Cooperative Bank, U.S. Department of Agriculture Cooperative Programs, and others.
International Credit Union Day also falls in the middle of the National Co-op Month on October 20. Credit unions are like banks in that they accept deposits, make loans and provide a wide array of other financial services, but they’re also co-ops in that they are member-owned and exist to serve their members. You can check out all the resources available to talk about member-owned financial institutions from the World Council of Credit Unions or the U.S.-based Credit Union National Association.
While this is a celebration led by U.S. co-ops, it’s one anyone can appreciate and support no matter their home country. It’s a great opportunity to celebrate cooperative enterprises in all its forms and spread the news about the important role they play in creating a sustainable and equitable economy.
How You Can Participate
- Get involved in a co-op near you: If you search online for “your city or state” plus “cooperatives,” chances are you’ll find a list or map of co-ops in your area. Examples are these maps from the Network of Bay Area Worker Cooperatives, the Neighboring Food Co-op Association of food cooperatives in the New England area, and the National Co+op Grocers. Once you find a co-ops whose products or services interest you, try shopping there or becoming a member.
- Spread the word: The simplest and most important thing you can do is to tell others about why cooperatives are such great alternatives to exploitative businesses like Walmart. There are great resources at the Co-op Month website including activity ideas, posters, and images to share on social media. There are also some facts and figures about co-ops you can share from the International Cooperative Alliance.
- Urge your co-op to get involved: If you’re a member of a cooperative, tell them about National Co-op Month and pass along any of the below resources for ideas on how it can participate.
- The Official Co-op Month Website has all the info you need to get started.
- Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA) has a great list of ideas for ways to get involved.
- International Co-operative Alliance has a calendar of upcoming events and conferences.
- Credit Union National Association has a page of resources, toolkits, and images to share for International Credit Union Day on October 20.