The cooperative way to reduce inequality
While there is a small number of cooperatives in New Zealand and most fly under the radar, the contribution they make to the economy is huge. Everyone in New Zealand would be poorer without them.
So what is a cooperative? It’s a business which operates to serve the needs of the members who own and control it, while most ordinary businesses operate to maximise the return to financial investors.
A very effective way for people to address their economic needs, co-ops are generally formed in response to a need that is either not being met or only being offered at too high a cost. Active participation by member owners in a cooperative benefits the civic life of any community, however that community defines itself. The empowering experience of self-determination through cooperation and the resulting increase in self-worth that comes from earning a better living has the potential not only to reduce inequality but also provide a perspective and develop skills which can be applied in other areas of a community.
Cooperative business tends to strengthen and diversify a local economic community as surpluses tend to remain in that local economy since they are returned to and benefit co-op member owners in one way or another. A cooperative is often a source of local employment, further strengthening that community.
Community-led economic development through cooperatives creates secure, sustainable, and just livelihoods for all those involved. The relationship between cooperative development and sustainable economic development, ethical capital raising, and social justice organising that reduces inequality will be better understood as we build resilient, values-led local economies.
In short, members own their cooperative, they control it, and they benefit from it, and if they build the business with cooperative values and principles at the fore, member owners will both be moving further from poverty and modelling the world we wish to see.
- How to start a cooperative, one step at a time
- Francis: The Cooperative Pope
- Cooperatives weathering Spain’s hard economic times
Ramsey Margolis is a cooperative business development strategist and founder of Huia CDS, a cooperative consulting company. Developing and implementing strategic campaigns for businesses based on equity, sustainability and solidarity grounded in cooperative values and principles will, he believes, create sustainable community wealth and develop resilient values-led local economies. Ramsey served as Executive Director of Cooperative Business New Zealand (formerly NZ Cooperatives Association) 2006–13.