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Voluntary, democratic, independent, cooperative

A cooperative, or co-op, is a business that is owned and controlled by its users or members and that distributes benefits to its members based on use, often in the form of patronage earnings or dividends. Cooperatives are typically governed by a member-elected board of directors that represents the interests of the members in decision making. Cooperatives are based on the values of self-responsibility, democracy and equality, equity and solidarity and abide by seven cooperative principles:

1) Voluntary and open membership
Cooperatives are voluntary organizations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership.

2) Democratic member control
Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions. Men and women serving as elected representatives are accountable to the membership.

3) Member economic participation
Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of the cooperative. The economic benefits of a cooperative operation are returned to the members, reinvested in the co-op, or used to provide member services.

4) Autonomy and independence
Cooperatives are autonomous, organizations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their cooperative autonomy.

5) Education, training, and information
Cooperatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperatives. They inform the general public about the nature and benefits of cooperation.

6) Cooperation among cooperatives
Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.

7) Concern for community
While focusing on member needs, cooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members.