A co-operative (“co-op”) is a business owned and controlled by the people who use its services.

Co-ops are different from profit-driven, investor-owned businesses. Co-ops are founded on the idea that people—no matter what their economic class or educational levels are—know what’s best for them. Through cooperation, people work together to meet their common interests. Co-ops empower individuals, and encourage healthier and stronger communities by pooling resources and sharing risks.

It is often said that co-ops are associations of people, whereas firms (such as publicly-traded corporations) are associations of capital.

Co-operatives are legally-recognized entities engaged in diverse activities. They are:

  • Businesses offering products or services to their members
  • Social enterprises providing basic necessities like housing or employment
  • Businesses owned and operated by their workers
  • Public services offering health care or child care to their members

One person, One vote

The one person, one vote approach is a key distinguisher between co-ops and traditional businesses.

  • Co-ops are open to everyone, regardless of income or social status
  • Each member in a co-op has an equal vote, no matter how much a member has invested in the co-op
  • As co-op members, individuals are entitled to elect a co-op’s board of directors, and run to be on the board

Because of its inherent roots in the community and highly democratic structure, the co-op model is often used to deliver social services, sometimes as non-profit organizations. Such co-ops may also choose to register as charities.

These videos, created by Co-ops UK and Desjardins, explain what makes co-ops different from traditional businesses.
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There are hundreds of co-ops in BC. Learn more about the co-op advantage.