` Columbia Journal - Business: Co-operative Enterprise
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A Quick Case for
Co-operative Enterprise

BY PETER DIMITRIOV - Cooperatives make good sense because usually they are owned by the consumers they serve and because the management of cooperatives are elected by their members and therefore must serve the best interests of those consumers and the communities wherein those consumers reside.

This is distinct from corporations where management (which might be located in a New York boardroom) is obligated to serve the best interests of the company and secondarily shareholders - to the exclusion of consumers and community interests.

Co-ops are voluntary organizations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept rights and responsibilities of co-op membership.

Unlike corporations, which are non-democratic and very authoritarian where those that control the majority of shares due to their monetary power dictate corporate policy and culture, the fundamental principle behind co-op decision making is one member - one vote regardless of number of shares owned.

Members can choose to actively participate in the establishment of policies and decision-making. The elected representatives that manage the day to day affairs of the co-op are required to look after the best interests of the members and they are accountable to the membership.

Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of the cooperative. That is, at least part of the capital is the "common community" of the co-op.

VanCity Credit Union, for example, provides its members an annual bonus on top of the capital that members invested to buy "co-op shares" which shares are not to be confused with shares in a corporation.

Also, members decide how to allocate monetary surpluses, for example, to re-invest surpluses to develop the cooperative, to establish a reserve fund or to support other initiatives that have been approved by the co-op membership.

Cooperatives are autonomous self- help organizations controlled by their members. They can enter into contractual agreements with other organizations, including other co-ops or the government, and they can raise capital from external sources on terms acceptable to the membership.

Furthermore, most co-operatives provide education and training to their members and employees and participate in information campaigns on the benefits of democratic enterprises to the community and the economy. They also usually try to work together in local, provincial, national and international structures.

Although co-ops focus primarily on the needs of their members, they also work for the sustainable development of their larger communities through democratic policy making.

Finally, cooperatives offer a viable democratic alternative to the undemocratic power of large multinational corporations.

Peter Dimitrov is the director of New Directions Communications Inc. in Vancouver and is a local labour and cooperative movement activist.

The Columbia Journal
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