What is a Co-op?
The Cooperative Grocer magazine defines a cooperative in simple terms by stating that a co-op is “a business 1) voluntarily owned by the people who use it, and 2) operated for the benefit of its members. Regardless of the goods and services provided, co-ops aim to meet their members' needs.”
The Swarthmore Co-op is known formally as the Consumers' Cooperative Association of Swarthmore, Inc. As a consumer’s cooperative, it is a business owned by its member-customers for their mutual benefit and that emphasizes and strives for service over profit. Quality goods and reasonable prices are values of a consumers' cooperative.
Most cooperatives operate under a common set of principles (the "Rochdale Principles"), laid out by the first cooperative in England, the Rochdale Cooperative (started in 1844). The International Cooperative Alliance defines these principles:
· Voluntary and Open Membership—Co-operatives are voluntary organizations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political, or religious discrimination.
· Democratic Member Control—Co-operatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions.
· Member Economic Participation—Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of their co-operative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the co-operative.... Members allocate surpluses for any or all of the following purposes: developing their cooperative, benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the co-operative and supporting other activities approved by the membership.
· Autonomy and Independence—Co-operatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their co-operative autonomy.
· Education, Training, and Information—Co-operatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees to they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperatives. They inform the general public...about the nature and benefits of co-operation.
· Concern for Community—Co-operatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members.