Part One: Considering Co-operatives

It is both easy and difficult to think about co-operatives. They are almost everywhere around the world, in every country and meeting hundreds of different kinds of needs. One can find them in virtually every kind of community. Yet the information about them is often repetitive and tends to be concerned with co-operatives that have been successful in the past and still exist in the market place. Information about new co-operatives is rarely easy to locate. Many co-operatives, moreover, are not careful about communicating what is "different" about them and are focused almost entirely on the transactions they hope to have with members and customers. It is not surprising, then, that many young people - and older ones too - conduct business with co-operatives but do not readily know that they do so.[1] Nor can young people generally find out about them in the course of their academic studies: in most countries it is difficult, in some impossible, to find out about them in school curricula. In short, it takes some efforts by people, old and young, to understand the past accomplishments, common problems and future potential of co-operatives, a rather puzzling circumstance for a movement so widely spread and so frequently used.

The following papers reflect some of the ideas and attitudes of young people who, despite the intentional and unconscious barriers, have been considering the co-operative model from a number of different perspectives. They differ remarkably in tone and method. Some are intensely personal, reflecting deep commitments and extensive involvement. One of them, by Professor Mirta Vuoto, starts a long overdue analysis of youth attitudes towards co-operatives, using careful analytical techniques: it provides considerable food for thought, both for those who would teach about co-operatives and for those who would seek to engage more youth in the co-operative movement. Another, by Nicole Ghanie can be seen in the long tradition of social engagement that has characterized much of co-operative history. She raises a high bar for anyone engaged in co-operatives, asking what it can and should do in the face of a major contemporary catastrophe. It is not, however, a barrier - just more obviously pressing - than those great issues of poverty and alienation that co-operators of another time have been willing to take on. Erik Haensel presents a road map for anyone wishing to pursue the most common form of communication away from home today.

Some authors speak from deep within the movement; others are from "newcomers", meaning that the papers collectively present, in the historic traditions of co-operative discourse, a number of debates between what is and what should be, between limited and broad purposes, between the present, the past and the future.


The Editors


[1] In over five years of instruction in a course on co-operative history at the University of Victoria only 20 per cent of the students registered in the course each year knew that they belonged to a co-operative. In reality, though, once local and regional co-operatives were identified, over 60 per cent realized that they had memberships in one co-operative or another. Similarly, many of the 15,000,000 members of Canadian co-operatives are not aware of the differences between co-operatives and other kinds of institutions. In many countries, older generations of people involved in co-operatives have not done a good job in communicating knowledge of their movement to succeeding generations. Basically, the "young" in recent times have had to find out for themselves, a sad reflection on the work of the co-operators who preceded them and of the educational institutions that have, with few exceptions around the world, consistently ignored the co-operative movement, its roles and contributions.

Creator - Author(s) Name and Title(s): 
Robin Puga
Ian MacPherson
Julia Smith
Publication Information: 
Youth Reinventing Co-operatives: Young Perspectives on the International Co-operative Movement – (Eds.) Robin Puga, Julia Smith, and Ian MacPherson
Thursday, January 1, 2009
Publisher Information: 
New Rochdale Press, British Columbia Institute for Co-operative Studies