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How Cooperation Spurs Personal and Community Success

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Humans are social beings who evolved with an ability to work together to meet survival and other needs, find and achieve common goals, and to thrive. People seem to love cooperating and they do it every day, whether it be to share the costs of a meal or to pool resources to build something a whole community can use, like a community center. By joining together, groups of people form strong social bonds as they leverage their combined strengths and resources to form complex networks that achieve more than the sum of their individual parts. These networks evolve to meet the changing needs of the group’s members. This is the beauty of cooperation and the reason the cooperative movement is so successful.


Cooperation in Business

Cooperative economy: an economic system in which those who employ its specific operating principles and embrace its explicit values can meet their basic needs in personally, socially, and environmentally responsible ways. –

When it comes to business, the cooperative model builds organizations that shoot far beyond financial goals by embedding values that are supportive of the individual members as well as entire communities. And beyond that, it has proven to be a solid framework for supporting sustainable economic and community growth. When a cooperative movement is allowed to flourish into a cooperative economy, communities are strengthened and empowered to take control of their resources. And when this happens, financial, social, and environmental wealth can flourish.


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A compelling example of the cooperative movement at work is the Mondragon Corporation – a federation of worker cooperatives (i.e., a cooperative of cooperatives) in Mondragon, Spain that was founded in 1956 to produce paraffin heaters. The cooperative was founded by a priest, José Maria Arizmendiarrieta, who wanted to eliminate the marginalization of workers by empowering them to take control over the management and profit of their work. He did not stop after the first cooperative and went on to initiate many small cooperatives, one of them being a financial cooperative to support the other cooperatives and their members. The cooperatives multiplied, eventually producing multiple products including stoves, refrigerators, washing machines, central heating equipment, and more. Today, Mondragon is the largest cooperative group in the world.


A Step Back into History

One could make an argument that cooperatives are nearly as old as humankind. For as long as humans have been trading goods created through community effort, cooperative practices have been in place. However, in the transition to the industrial era, cooperation became a formalized strategy as a way to preserve the livelihoods of workers. The International Cooperative Alliance dates the first cooperative on record back to March of 1761, when a group of weavers began selling oatmeal from a cottage in Fenwick, Scotland. After nearly a century, the modern cooperative movement was born, in 1844, with the Rochdale Pioneers in Lancashire, England, which provided affordable and safe food and provisions to a community in dire need.

The cooperative movement has grown and spread across all continents since then, and in 1994, the International Cooperative Alliance, meeting in Oslo, Norway, approved a set of cooperative principles that were originally drafted by the Rochdale Pioneers. The principles, which would eventually be adopted by many cooperatives around the world, are:

  • Voluntary and open membership
  • Democratic member control
  • Member economic participation
  • Autonomy and independence
  • Education, training, and information
  • Cooperation among cooperatives
  • Concern for community

By adhering to the seven cooperative principles, organizations are able to remain true to their core values, with a focus on equality, mutual self-help, and the shared objectives of the community.


The Ever-Expanding Benefits of Cooperation

The cooperative model is about more than making money. Cooperative corporations like Mondragon prove that they are capable of making money – and lots of it. But the principles at the heart of a cooperative are human-based. They promote employee happiness and control, recirculate money to the local economy, and build strong networks of people who are invested in common goals. The more committed its members, the more likely a cooperative is to find success in achieving member objectives. As the cooperative’s networks reach deeper into the communities, towns, states, countries, and continents it serves, more and more people benefit.

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Simeon Chapin

About Simeon Chapin

About Simeon Chapin Simeon Chapin is the community impact officer at VSECU, a values-based credit union located in Vermont, and has over a decade of experience driving business, brands, and engagement toward social good. Simeon specializes in business development and manages strategy and execution, measurement, public and community relations, impact investing, and philanthropy. With a creative, integrated, and rigorous approach, Simeon brings people together to propel positive change and culture forward. Simeon is continuously inspired by the natural world and the innovation that comes out of challenge and perseverance. When not at work, Simeon likes to be with his family in the mountains, on a bike on Vermont gravel roads, or listening to music from all corners of the world.
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