Cooperative History, Principles and Philosophy 101 for Forming Co-ops (Workshop)

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The goal of this workshop is to provide a foundation of general knowledge on Cooperatives and guide groups as they more fully develop their vision, mission, business concept, strategy, image and culture for their own co-op.

This workshop is designed for groups that are already forming or considering forming a co-op. It can be used with several co-op groups or a single co-op group.

Time needed: Approximately 3 hours

Materials needed:


At the conclusion of the training each participant should be able to:

  • Understand the seven cooperative principles
  • Understand the three principle forms of cooperatives (worker, consumer, producer/marketing/shared services).
  • Understand the variations that have occurred in different regions.
  • Identify advantages and challenges of the cooperative business structure
  • Prepare a new or revised mission statement. Each group will write a short piece on how their co-op’s mission, vision, and operations are informed by the history and principles of the cooperative movement. This can be written in the form of an “About Us” section on a web site.
  • Have participants identify what cooperative structure most suits their group, or best speaks to them.
  • Each participant will identify advantages cooperatives have over other businesses and challenges unique to cooperatives

Videos to watch prior to workshop

If possible, before attending the workshop, ask participants to watch the following videos. Each of these videos can be viewed for free online.

Workshop Facilitation

Facilitator Introduction - 5 Minutes

The facilitator should introduce themself, background, and "why I’m passionate about cooperatives."

Icebreaker – Introduce someone - 20 minutes

Split the workshop participants into pairs. Each person should tell their partner their name, which co-op they’re affiliated with, why they want to start (or improve) a cooperative, and one challenge that their group is likely to face. Each pair has 5 minutes total. (The facilitator calls on pairs to switch at the 2.5 min mark).

Following these introductions, the partner is then responsible for introducing their partner to the rest of the group.

What is a Co-op? (1 hour and 20 minutes)

Materials for this segment:

If people are in groups that are currently forming co-ops (or in existing co-ops), those groups should sit together.

Review ICA Statement on the Cooperative Identity (45 min)

Definition of a Cooperative (10 min)
  • Select a volunteer to read the ICA definition of a cooperative
  • Small Group Discussion – 1) How does this definition apply to your group, 2) What common needs is your group going to meet? , 3) Why do you want to jointly own something and make decisions democratically?
Cooperative Principles (35 min)

Select 7 volunteers to stand before the class

  • Each will introduce themselves and say the name and purpose of their co-op, and act out one principle (15min @ 2min each). (This means, they will put on a brief performance that embodies their principle. They may do this in coordination with other participants.)
  • Following these performances, facilitate a large group discussion covering the following two questions:

1) Are there any co-op principles that you are unsure about or have questions about. (The facilitator or a helper should take note of these on butcher paper/an easel sheet in front of the class with a large marker) 2) Are there any principles you would add to the co-op principles? What are they, and why?. Write answers to these on a butcher paper and compare the seven co-op principles and the participant generated principles to Mondragon's principles) (20 min)

Review Principle forms of cooperatives. (20 min)

Work with the participants to figure out definitions of each of the following types of co-ops (Only take a minute or two on this, it is most important that you get the definitions out quickly so you can explore examples and discuss questions). Then ask participants for examples of each (5 min each):

  • Consumer Cooperatives – owned by consumers
  • Marketing/Producer/Shared Services Cooperatives – owned by individual businesses for the purpose of sharing resources (e.g. brand identity, equipment)
  • Worker Cooperatives – owned by workers
  • Social Cooperatives – mission is to provide a social benefit, owned by workers (with input from beneficiaries, volunteers, and funders)

(You could also add, or substitute with another type of co-op, multi-stakeholder or hybrid co-ops; housing co-ops; and more).

Break participants back into their co-op groups, and have each group discuss which cooperative structure best suits their group and why. (5 min)

Ask each group to select a representative to share the results of their discussion. Representatives report back on results - and the group discusses any questions. (10 min)

Benefits of a co-op (15 minutes)

Materials needed: butcher paper/easel sheets and marker

  • Break people back into their co-op groups, and have those groups independently brainstorm potential benefits of cooperatives.
  • Next, ask people to report back to the FULL group benefits of a co-op. Copy these down on an easel sheet/butcher paper label "co-op benefits."
  • Following this, ask the whole group to provide actual examples of these benefits. Copy these down on an easel sheet/butcher paper label "examples of co-op benefits."
  • Lead a group discussion: Ask participants what co-ops or co-op movements inspire them? Why? What lessons can we draw? Take notes of these down on an easel sheet labeled "Co-op inspirations."

Challenges of a Cooperative (15 minutes)

Materials needed: butcher paper/easel sheets and marker

  • Lead a group brainstorm of challenges cooperatives are likely to face and then list these challenges, while taking notes on an easel sheet labeled "co-op challenges." These can be challenges their groups are facing or examples they know of.
  • Large Group Discussion: Ask volunteers to share challenges they’ve had that may be unique to cooperatives and how they were addressed. What did they learn as a result? Takes notes from this discussion on an easel sheet/butcher paper labeled "addressing co-op challenges."

Writing Exercise (Creating a Mission Statement) (45 Minutes)

Materials Needed: A piece of butcher paper/easel sheet (or just regular paper) per group; and a marker (or just pen) per group.

Each group will develop a statement that describes their organization and speaks to its cooperative nature. The mission statement should be concise and inspire support.

  • Working together, each co-op group should answer the following three questions (15 min):

1) What are the needs that we seek to address? (the purpose of the organization)

2) What are we doing/going to do to address these needs? (the business of the organization)

3) What principles or beliefs guide our work? (our values)

  • Next, the facilitator should tell the each group to combine their answers to the three questions into one statement describing their co-op (10min)
  • Each group shares their mission statement and an explanation of why they wrote what they did. The other co-op groups provide feedback (2 minutes per group). (20min)

Thank everyone for their contributions!