Cooperatives 101

A Brief History of Cooperatives

The first cooperative was founded in 1844 in Rochdale, England. The original twenty-eight members were weavers and skilled workers in various trades who came together, created business principles to guide their work and to establish a location to sell their goods. 

The need for cooperation was in response to a changing industry landscape that saw mass production pushing out smaller merchants. With their less expensive, quickly manufactured products, mass producers were able to meet the growing demands of consumers faster than their artisanal counterparts who put time and care into the quality of their wares.   

The founding cooperative members were able to “pool their resources” and be competitive with larger manufacturers at scale. Having principles and looking out for each other’s well being were baked into the founding cooperative principles because of the inequality, low pay, long hours, unsanitary workplaces, and absence of workers’ on the job rights indicative of the industrial culture of the time.

What’s a cooperative?

 A cooperative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs, and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.

USAID: Cooperatives 101

What are the Tiers of Cooperatives?

First Tier: Community


Individuals are members and businesses can be in any sector.

Second Tier: Regional/National

Unions, Federations

Cooperatives are members and this level tends to be sector-specific for greater efficiencies in markets.

Third Tier: National

Apex Associations

Multi-sector, national membership of organizations which aim to advocate on behalf of cooperatives, educate the public, and improve cross-sector collaboration.

Cooperative Values

Cooperatives are based on the values of self-helpself-responsibilitydemocracyequalityequity, and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, cooperative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.