It should be no surprise that the models of business reflect the models of society. And yet I find myself surprised.
The nature of a cooperative is that it lives by the seven cooperative principles. These are:
- Voluntary and open membership
- Democratic member control
- Member economic participation
- Autonomy and independence
- Education, training and information
- Cooperation among cooperatives
- Concern for community
In Canada this model is fairly rare, with a few notable examples, like the credit unions, MEC and a few others. So we keep asking the cooperatives here questions about how they operate, because to us it seems like a huge deal that they have woven a social fiber into their business operations. Some of the answers we are receiving back delve into tax law and details of their corporate structure and organization. It seems like we’re not quite understanding each other, even though the translators are doing a superb job.
And then it hit me – to them the cooperative model is so expected that they think we’re asking a different question. We’re asking about the model because it’s so novel to meet a big machinery manufacturing company doing business in 75 countries making billions of Euros a year and behaving according to the cooperative principles. To them it’s just called business.
The intention with which you create a business affects the nature, culture and values of that business from then on. These businesses started with a social conscience and it is a part of how they operate. So they are free to innovate and expand, while making society stronger. It is social finance in action.
The model of businesses making a lot of money so you can give some of it back as corporate donations doesn’t resonate here. Companies doing awful things give back money, and sometimes lots of it. That doesn’t stop them from corruption and shady business dealings. When the people who work at the coop are involved with its ownership, governance and profitability the need to give a lot back doesn’t make it socially responsible, responsibility is part of the very core of business.