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2012: International Year of the Co-op

Co-ops Build a Better World

Last fall, the United Nations officially announced the launch of 2012 as the International Year of Co-ops, with the theme “Cooperative Enterprises Build a Better World.” The year recognizes the unique contribution of co-ops to economic resilience, employment, social integration and food security.

CO-OPERATIVES ARE businesses that are owned and democratically controlled by their members — the people who use the co-op’s products or services, or are employed by the business. In addition, co-ops are united by a shared set of principles and values that guide business decisions, including democracy, self-help, and concern for community.

And there are probably more co-ops around you than you might think. Around the world, an estimated 1 billion people are members of co-ops – more than are individual stockholders in corporations. And according to the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA), co–ops have a dramatic impact on the national level:

There are nearly 30,000 co-ops in the U.S., serving more than one in every four Americans;
Co-ops operate in every industry of the economy, from food co-ops to farmer co-ops, worker co-ops to credit unions, housing co-ops to healthcare, and insurance to energy and utilities;

Co-ops in the United States operate 73,000 establishments that provide over 2 million jobs.

Co-ops are also important to our local economies. For example, the Neighboring Food Co-op Association includes more than 25 food co-ops and start-ups with over 90,000 members and $250 million in annual revenue. Together, these co-ops employ over 1,400 people and food co-ops in Vermont, taken together, would be among the top 25 employers in the state. An independent study found that the members of the NFCA purchased more than $33 million in local products annually (2007), contributing to more diverse and resilient local economies.

Co-ops are also involved in the movement for more sustainable and community-based energy. There are rural electric utilities such as the Vermont Electric Co-op and the Washington Electric Co-op, and co-ops such as Acorn Energy Co-op and the Energy Co-op that help members heat their homes. Further south, Co-op Power is helping people increase their access to sustainable energy, while the worker co-op Pioneer Valley PhotoVoltaics is a leader in the design and installation of renewable hydro, wind and solar projects. And across our region, people are finding new ways to use the co-operative business model to meet their needs, together.

Co-ops provide a concrete alternative to business as usual – one that is community-based, puts people above pro#t, and can be applied to any need or business opportunity. As member-driven organizations, they empower people to take more control over their economic lives and create change for themselves, their families and their communities. The International Year of Co-ops is a unique opportunity to learn more about the difference co-ops make locally and around the world, and to explore ways to apply the model to new challenges and opportunities. For more information about the International Year of Co–ops, please visit:  www.2012.coop

Erbin Crowell serves as executive director of the Neighboring Food Co-op Association, a network of more than 25 food co-ops and start-ups in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut that are working together toward a shared vision of a thriving regional economy, rooted in a healthy, just and sustainable food system and a vibrant community of co-operative enterprise. He serves on the boards of the Cooperative Fund of New England and the National Cooperative Business Association.

For more information, visit: www.nfca.coop

“Co-operatives 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

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