"Cooperatives are a reminder to the international community that it is possible to pursue both economic viability and social responsibility."
- Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General
The United Nations has declared 2012 the "International Year of Cooperatives," a time for the international community to raise awareness of and celebrate the social and economic contributions of cooperative businesses.
What are cooperative businesses? They are organizations of all sizes owned and run by and for their members. Whether the members are the customers, employees or residents, participants within a cooperative business have an equal say in what the business does and a share in the profits. Like InCommons, they thrive with co-creation among its participants, grow through the listening of its members, and advance through energetic collaboration.
While most business news headlines focus on the wheelings, dealings, high-flung successes and spectacular failures of large, publicly-traded corporate enterprises, cooperatives businesses are a major, stable and secure force in our economy: Each year in America, they collectively garner $654 billion in revenue, employ two million, provide $75 billion in wages and $133.5 billion in value added income. That's revenue that stays within the business and among its members and customers - not sent away to be traded on stock exchanges or given as bonuses to the executive team at an international conglomerate.
More often than you might realize, co-ops play a vital part of your everyday life. In fact, you may be a member and not even realize it. Minnesota-based co-ops include grocery stores like the Twin Cities food co-ops, credit unions like Co-op Credit Union, housing co-ops such as your condo's association, utility co-ops like Great River Energy, health care cooperatives like HealthPartners and food producer co-ops like Land o' Lakes. And, do you patronize brands like Ace Hardware, REI, OceanSpray juice, Organic Valley milk, or Frontier spices? All co-ops.
Globally, the co-op's reach is even greater. More than 800 million people around the world belong to cooperatives, and at least 100 million people are employed by co-ops.
How can you be a part of this year of global celebration? One easy activity is finding and patronizing a co-op. National Cooperative Business Association has a great directory here.
The second path is deeper and aligns closely with InCommons' mission, vision and values. It can also have lasting impact in your work and life: learning about and implementing the seven cooperative principles.
No matter the type or size, each co-op around the world abides by core principles that focus on self-responsibility, democracy, equality, honesty and social responsibility. You can read more about these principles here.
Essentially, the cooperative principles encourage you to make every business or organizational decision with the well-being and sustainability of your community in mind. It's a time-tested virtue. After all, since childhood, we're taught time and again the benefits of cooperation. Just ask the folks on Sesame Street.
As you plan 2012, what can you do to mark International Year of Cooperatives and incorporate the principles of cooperatives in your work and life? Join the conversation here.