What Is a Co-op?

A co-operative is an organization owned by the members who use its services (a consumer co-operative or credit union), or by people who work there (a worker co-op), or by those who live there (a housing co-operative). When various members represent different viewpoints they can form a general membership co-op and, if they wish, set up committees to handle the interests of particular groups within the co-op.  For example a health co-op might have education, maintenance, communication, patient, fundraising, practitioner and certification committees. Some co-ops have only one type of membership, e.g.workers or users (clients or patients) and others have several categories of membership.

Co-ops that are well known across Canada include:

  • The Co-operators (insurance)
  • Affinity, Assiniboine, Aeterna, Coastal Community, Desjardins, Vancity etc (credit unions)
  • Ocean Spray, Parmalait and many other agri-food and fisheries co-ops
  • Taxi Co-ops, Adrenalin Motorcycle Co-op, utility co-ops
  • Many visual and performance arts, media and broadcast co-ops

DEFINITION: A co-operative 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.

VALUES: Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity.

PRINCIPLES: The co-operative principles are guidelines by which co-operatives put their value into practice.

  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
“Definition, Values and Principles” courtesy of www.ica.coop

What is a mutual?

The term “mutual” is almost always – though not exclusively – used in Canada to describe an insurance company. In a mutual insurance company, the policyholder is the insured party and also a participant in the business – like a co-operative. If you terminate a mutual insurance policy, the product, you are also withdrawing from the mutual business and giving up the rights of ownership.

The security of pooled of funds and shared risk among a large group of people is a very stable and successful business model that has existed since before Canadian confederation. Mutuals tend to grow steadily over time to serve current and future policy holders.