What is a Co-op?

CDF Canada is a nonprofit charitable organization that, for more than 70 years, has used the co-op model to strengthen communities around the world.

A co-operative is an organization owned by the members who use its services.

They are a values-based and community-owned and controlled business alternative. A key difference between a traditional structure and a co-op’s structure comes in the order of priorities which, for a co-op, are to first meet the needs of its membership in a productive, self-sufficient and socially responsible manner. Co-ops are a form of social enterprise.

Values & Principles

Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others. The co-operative principles are guidelines, set by the International Co-operative Alliance, by which co-operatives put their values into practice.

Co-operatives & Development

Co-operatives are a powerful tool for development because they put control of the institution in the hands of community members, who invest collectively in the co-op’s future for the good of the community as a whole.

Community development and socioeconomic transformation doesn’t happen overnight. It can be challenging to sustain community momentum to ensure that transformation happens. An advantage of co-ops as a model for development is that they provide economic and social incentives (employment, financing, access to marketing channels, training and education, leadership and governance training and practice, housing) for members to remain engaged over the long-term. Having seen the impact and scope of what is achievable when members work together and pool their resources, communities are further encouraged to ‘co-operate’ to address entrenched economic, social and environmental issues.

Members own, manage and direct the co-operative. The model is based on open, democratic and voluntary participation which opens the opportunity for active participation by marginalized and vulnerable social groups.

For example, co-ops are a place where women can participate in discussions, vote and serve on a board or committee. Through membership, training and mentorship, women gain the confidence to speak in front of their peers, lead discussions, chair meetings, mobilize activities and address gender injustice and conditions of inequality.

Learn More About Co-operatives

Co-operatives and Mutuals Canada

International Co-operative Alliance

Our response paper to Global Affairs Canada’s International Assistance Review

Video from the United Nations Secretariat of Experts on Co-operatives for Sustainable Development


Thank you to Co-operatives and Mutuals Canada for providing some of the information on this page.

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