A Crash Course for Co-operators

Let me introduce cooperatives to you through this video of one of my favorite co-operatives, Modo. Existing for more than 20 years, it’s one of the first car-sharing co-operatives in Canada.

This car-sharing cooperative seemed to have predated the so-called “sharing economy” (i.e. Uber, Grab, AirBnb, etc.) by a couple of decades.

Did this surprise you?

Why? Or why not?

So what is a Cooperative?

A cooperative is a company owned by its members who use, supply or otherwise benefit from its products or services.

If you want a formal (er, mouthful) definition, here it is according to Philippine law:

“A cooperative is an autonomous and duly registered association of persons, with a common bond of interest, who have voluntarily joined together to achieve their social, economic, and cultural needs and aspirations by making equitable contributions to the capital required, patronizing their products and services and accepting a fair share of the risks and benefits of the undertaking in accordance with universally accepted cooperative principles.”

Cooperative Principles

The International Cooperative Alliance, the worldwide non-profit for coops, was established in 1895. In 1995, it issued the revised Statement on the Cooperative Identity, which includes the seven cooperative principles mentioned in this video.

Some of the values that govern cooperatives are self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, solidarity, openness, and social responsibility.

Cooperatives “IRL”

Cooperatives in action, in real life. Hard to think of a better flag-bearer than Mondragón.

As a group, it has 100 firms, from machine tool manufacturers and supermarket chains to household appliance makers, a university, and a bank.

In fact, Mondragón is the world’s largest cooperative.

But have you heard of it before?

Ace Hardware Corporation is a hardware retailers’ cooperative.

Sunkist is a marketing cooperative entirely owned by and operated for citrus growers.

SWIFT, or the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, is a coop.

Even Barcelona FC (football club) is a cooperative.

Again, does any of these surprise you?

Why? Or why not?

Cooperative Banking

I wanted to include this video here because credit cooperatives and financial service cooperatives are very popular in the Philippines.

You can look at credit unions and cooperative banks as their nice and friendly “cousins”.

Once again, according to Philippine law—

A “credit cooperative is one that promotes and undertakes savings and lending services among its members. It generates a common pool of funds in order to provide financial assistance to its members for productive and provident purposes.”

A “financial service cooperative is one organized for the primary purpose of engaging in savings and credit services and other financial services.”

A “cooperative bank is one organized for the primary purpose of providing a wide range of financial services to cooperatives and their members.”

Don’t worry if they all sound the same.

For now.

Cooperative Insurance

1 Cooperative Insurance System of the Philippines Life and General Insurance (“CISP” for short) falls under this type of cooperative.

CISP operates as a life and non-life insurer and, together with the Cooperative Health Management Federation (“CHMF”), the Philippine coop sector offers the whole suite of life, non-life and health financial services.

The law defines an insurance cooperative as “one engaged in the business of insuring life and poverty of cooperatives and their members.”

A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.
Ayn Rand

By way of summary . . .

The Present

It has been a privilege to work with CHMF, with cooperative leaders from all over the country. Ditto with working with CISP.

But there are many things to do and there’s much more that can be done.

Original image: MSU-IIT NMPC

Original image: MSU-IIT NMPC

For the last few years, I have been privately advocating for the formation of the Philippines’ first true technology co-operative.

A platform cooperative. A cloud cooperative. A technology cooperative federation.

The reason—today, every business is a technology business.

I feel that co-operatives have mostly missed the Web boat. Or were at the least late to the party.

And today we are living in a post-Web world sailing in post-Web seas.

But we don’t have to miss out on . . .

The Future

There are extreme opinions on blockchain and, in the case of cryptocurrencies, wild ups and downs. But they are elegant solutions to real, difficult problems.

Distributed ledger technology and cooperatives are a match made in heaven. Cooperatives just don’t know it yet.

They represent the kind of “cooperation” that potentially disrupts cooperation itself.

So I can’t wait for the future of co-operatives—it’s already here!

Original image: Documenta14.de

Original image: Documenta14.de

In the end there’s a saying, “If you want to get something done, do it yourself.”

Thankfully, with co-operation, “yourself” need not mean “alone.”

So if you are working on an innovative project for your co-operative or the co-operative sector in general, let me hear from you!

Leave a comment