What is a Cooperative?

JamesTruter_2017-02-18-07-21-41Very few South Africans are knowledgeable about the cooperative form of business.

Many young men and women under the age of 40 have never heard the term cooperative. This is not surprising considering our schooling system does not teach about this form of business. Yet, this is the only form of business that will create an order of magnitude change in the lives of millions of South Africans. On the contrary, the cooperative form of business has a very long history in developed countries.

I will not attempt to write an A to Z account of cooperatives. There are several reputable organisations that have produced excellent literature on cooperatives. One such organisation is the International Co-operative Alliance, whose content can be accessed on their website http://ica.coop/. There are also countless books, magazines and online publications available to the reader to gain further insights; a simple google search will expose a mountain of information.

The South African Co-operatives Act No 14 of 20051 defines a cooperative as ‘…an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic and social needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise organised and operated on co-operative principles.’

It is a form of business where a number of people who either work for the same organisation, live in the same neighbourhood or belong to the same association come together to form an enterprise for their common economic, social and other needs. It is a form of business that is fully owned and controlled by its members. From funeral care to vehicle insurance, from grocery stores to property development, cooperatives come in all shapes and sizes and across different sectors. Worldwide, cooperatives are owned by workers, farmers, taxi drivers, residents, ordinary consumers and businesses.

Members of cooperatives believe in self-help, self-reliance, self-responsibility, democracy, equality and social responsibility. Cooperatives make up an economy that considers social justice to be just as important as the pursuit of profit. Contrary to a commercial enterprise, the cooperative enterprise does not maximise shareholder value or returns in proportion to capital contributed, but gives benefits to members in proportion to transactions done with the cooperative. It is an enterprise that gives its members ownership and control.

(Extract from chapter 3 of my book: A new vision for South Africa, Release date: 22 July 2017)




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