How did co-operatives start?
If you think about it, co-operation is probably as old as civilization. People had to
learn to work together to meet their common needs in order to survive. The earliest co-operative associations were created in Europe and North America in the 17th and 18th centuries to deal with the depressed economic and social conditions related to industrialization.
The origin of co-operatives is sometimes traced to the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers’ Society, an urban, consumer co-operative organized in England in 1844. It sold consumer goods such as food and clothing to people unhappy with the merchants in the community.
The historical development of co-operatives cannot be disconnected from the social and economic forces that created them.
While not the first or the most successful early co-operative, the unique contribution of the Rochdale Society was to codify a guiding set of seven
co-operative principles: characteristics that distinguished co-operatives from non co-operative businesses.
1. Voluntary and open membership
2. Democratic member control
3. Member economic participation
4. Autonomy and independence
5. Education, training, and information
6. Co-operation among co-operatives
7. Concern for community
Today, co-operatives are started for the same reasons: a lack of products or services in a community that a co-operative can secure and supply at a competitive price.