In our last post , we provided the definition of a cooperative, or co-op for short, and highlighted some of the positive impacts a co-op can have on the community. We also discussed that co-ops are businesses that are owned and run by their members and are unified in the goals of the organization and the principles in which they operate.

Co-ops are businesses driven by value and not just profit, operating on the same set of seven core values and principles as other co-ops around the world. In 1895, the International Co-operative Alliance, an independent, non-governmental organization, was established to bond, represent and serve co-ops worldwide. In 1995, the Alliance adopted a set of universal core values and principles with a focus on fairness and equality to assure sustainable enterprises are created. When you review the core values of a co-operative, self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity, it becomes easier to understand the foundation on which the seven principles were formed.

Over the next seven weeks, we will highlight and define each principle one-by-one.


  1. Voluntary, Open Ownership. Open to all without gender, social, racial, political, or religious discrimination.
  2. Democratic Owner Control. One Owner, One Vote.
  3. Owner Economic Participation.
  4. Autonomy and Independence.
  5. Education, Training and Information.
  6. Cooperation Among Cooperatives.
  7. Concern for the Community.


Co-operatives are voluntary organizations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.

This first principle has been a core principle of the co-operative movement since the 19th century. Voluntary participation in a co-op instills personal value and commitment to the co-op by the individual. An individual who chooses to become a member of a co-op and join others to pursue common goals, is exercising their right to freedom of association.

Equally, the organization is open to everyone and anyone, meaning any person has equal right to become involved and join. Furthermore, no arbitrary restrictions can be placed on members who wish to join, unless the current membership has elected a limit or ceiling to the total number of memberships allowed at one time.  (Not the case at Grassroots)

Co-ops are formed by the community, of the community, to service the community, generally to serve a specific purpose. Principle 1 includes the phrase “open to all persons able to use their service”. Many co-ops are formed to fill niche groups or markets, while consumer co-operatives for food distribution, are open to all consumers whether that individual is a member of the organization or not. Grassroots Local Market will be open to the public, meaning anyone can shop and individuals do not have to be a member or the co-op or town/city resident to enjoy the goods and services provided by the grocery.

The words Membership and Ownership are often interchangeable in co-ops, and are a key element of Principle 1 in that, membership / ownership comes with responsibilities and rights not afforded to individuals who are not members, as members truly do own the business, figuratively, literally, and legally. While at Grassroots there are no ongoing requirements asked of the members (i.e. to work in the store, volunteer, run for or serve on the Board of Directors) members gain exclusive rights to vote for bylaw changes, elect candidates for the Board of Directors, and even run for the Board if they choose. Additionally, Members often receive patronage dividends as owners of the business, and are offered perks such as member only discount days, or special offers.

Additionally, some co-ops do choose to extend the benefits or perks of membership, beyond the initial individual who purchased the membership, to all persons sharing the same household address and refrigerator, but since the co-op is open to the public, no one is restricted to shop there. Grassroots currently uses a household membership, allowing persons sharing one household to “share the membership”, but ultimately the purchasing individual(s) will only have voting rights etc.

Principle 1 also states that membership is open to all persons “without discrimination”. Since co-ops are jointly owned and voluntarily, the membership is often a direct reflection of the community in which the co-op exists. Membership cannot be denied based on gender, social, racial, political, or religious discrimination.

The term Membership (or ownership) is fundamental to Principle 1, which is fundamental to a co-op. Principle 1 is the level playing field which allows a co-op to not just be part of the community it serves, but to be a true reflection of the community that it is made up of.  A co-op is the community in which it exists.  

We hope you enjoyed reviewing Principle 1 and hope you will join us next week as we dig deeper into the seven principles and review Principle 2: Democratic Owner Control. One Owner, one vote. Stay tuned for more information and education on co-ops.