The International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) has established seven principles as guidelines by which cooperatives put their values into practice.
The Sixth Principle is Cooperation among Cooperatives
Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional, and international structures.
We are all part of a larger community, society and economy. We are interconnected. Cooperation with others is merely a recognition of that connectedness and is the only way to build an equitable and sustainable world.
But on a more practical level, cooperation among cooperatives is a crucial way to gain the advantages of scale and effectively compete against other types of business entities (like investor-owned businesses). Coops face different challenges, however: How to cooperate with another entity while maintaining independence and democratic control? How to balance long-term collective goals with short-term interests of an individual Coop?
We sometimes hear talk of an “ecosystem” of cooperatives. Through this lens we can see that any one cooperative will be stunted and impaired in isolation but will have the opportunity to flourish when connected with other cooperatives. The Sixth Principle provides some additional guidance in specifically referencing coops “working together through […] structures”. Instead of one-off ad hoc collaborations, coops can connect with secondary cooperatives (i.e., coops whose members are coops) to increase market access, marketing, and leverage resources. Secondary coops can act as advocates for their members and facilitate the exchange of knowledge and skills, and organize efforts at a large scale without diminishing the democratic governance of individual coops.
We believe that structures implement principles. Thoughtful and considered formation, or re-formation, of your business can give you bylaws, agreements, contracts, and policies that can place these values at the core of your organization, not just an afterthought.
How does your business work with other businesses that share your values?