- STRUCTURE & PARTICIPATION
- MEMBER TRANSITION
- EDUCATION & TRAINING
- COOPERATIVE CULTURE
- RELATIONSHIPS OF SOLIDARITY
- RELATIONSHIPS OF COERCION
- COOPERATIVE DEVELOPMENT
- SOCIAL TRANSFORMATION
Cooperatives throughout the world often experience similar tasks and challenges, no matter the age, language, or culture of their members. The key issues included in this toolkit are largely representative of universal areas of concern for cooperatives across generations. That said, some of these shared issues manifest for youth in distinct ways, which are outlined in the initial discussion of each issue, “General Issue Summary,” that comprises the first section of each key issue chapter. The second section of each chapter, “Coopyouth Realities & Responses,” outlines some of the solutions imagined and enacted by coopyouth from around the world. In addition, "realities" is included to represent that, for some of the issues faced, solutions or effective responses have not yet been identified - so the struggle of and attempts by coopyouth are importantly included, as well. Without exception, all of the responses and realities outlined are from coopyouth individuals and their cooperatives, which are either entirely or majority youth.
The third and final section of each chapter delves into embedded or connected issues that are identified as “Correlated Issues.” The term correlated was used due to its preciseness in identifying how these issues are deeply connected, interact with one another, and can often be functions of one another. Cooperatives are not closed systems, nor do any internal systems within a cooperative operate independently. It is not uncommon for an issue to become apparent to a cooperative in one area (e.g. interpersonal conflict), while the true origin and - following - solution to the issue are to be found within a different aspect of the cooperative’s function (e.g. how information is distributed among the membership). If using this toolkit to address an issue in a cooperative, the ultimate guidance and inspiration for the issue might be found in the chapter discussing a correlated issue.
The key issues outlined can be summarized as follows, with much more introductory detail provided in each individual section:
Often discussed in terms of “governance” and “operations,” the issue of “Structure and Participation” explores the various ways in which cooperators manage both long-term and large-scale conversations alongside day-to-day decision-making. It is perhaps the most common strategy among older cooperatives to draw a strong distinction between these two areas of organizational management, which is then most frequently accomplished by creating an elected Board of Directors responsible for all “governance” activities. Among coopyouth, there is a trend away from the use of Boards and conventional splits between governance and operations, and a move towards reinvigorating the General Assembly and other forms of all member discussion spaces.
- Legal Requirements
- Once You’ve Seen One Cooperative…
- Board - Y/N?
- General Assembly
- Common Complaints
Managing the flow of members in and out - or, "Membership Transition" - of a cooperative organization can be very complicated - coordinating training and often capital contribution at the front-end, as well as communication of institutional memory and capital dispensing at the back-end. If mismanaged, membership transitions can be a death knell for a cooperative or can, at least, contribute to the degradation of the cooperative’s integrity. Youth are far more transient than any other age group, and youth cooperatives are faced with managing an especially significant amount of member turnover. This is an issue of primary importance for coopyouth, and - as a result - youth cooperatives have evolved some of the most dynamic strategies for managing entry and exits from mutual enterprises.
“Whatever you cannot understand, you cannot possess” (Johann Wolfgang de Goethe). This takes on a tremendously important meaning in the context of cooperativism. If a member does not fully understand the cooperative’s character, purpose, and functioning, that member does not truly possess or own their cooperative. Additionally, the centrality of education to cooperatives has been urged throughout the movement’s existence, and much cooperative philosophy – specifically, Arizmendiarrieta’s Pensamientos – has indicated that all cooperatives must be institutions of education, first and foremost, if they are to be successful. A key aspect of "Education and Training" contributed by coopyouth is the inclusion of unlearning as an integral part of cooperative education.
- Raison d’etre
- Unlearning Capitalism to Imagine Beyond It
- Homo Cooperativus
- Education As Solidarity & Care
Conventionally held notions of leadership are highly individualistic, often consider material wealth as a measure of success, and foment competitiveness between people. Within a cooperative, leadership can take on a much different shape - it is to be shared, dynamic, and representative of all those involved. In conventional organizations, leadership is often “structured” via formal administrative or titular roles that clearly indicate to people within the social system that someone is “in charge.” Within cooperatives, there are certainly structural mechanisms that support the full expression of cooperative leadership, but the strongest cooperative leadership is maintained by culture, not structure. The subtopics for "Leadership" were drawn directly from the 2015 CoopYouth Statement on Cooperative Leadership, which makes it distinct from all the other key issues included in the toolkit.
- Representational Vs. Participatory Democracy
- Leadership Succession & Shared Representation
- Autonomous Youth Organizations
The least common denominator and most important aspect of every social movement, community, organization, economic exchange, family structure, and social system is relationship. It is via relationships that we, as individuals and groups, share the knowledge, sustenance, and kinship we need to survive and thrive. These connections and exchanges hold power that gets distributed between those in the relationship according to a variety of factors - to create dynamics of mutual aid or dynamics in which one party exercises a level of control over another. To this end, relationships are discussed in this toolkit in two capacities -
"Relationships of Solidarity" are those with individuals and institutions that help a cooperative to survive and thrive, as well as for the Cooperative Movement to grow and the world to heal. These are the relationships that cooperatives *choose* to have and in which each party has full autonomy; relationships that create mutual benefit for all involved.
- With Other Marginalized
- Ecosystem of Impact
- Cooperative Institutions & Elders
- Other Institutions
Given the reach of capitalism and the nation-state, it is difficult for cooperatives to exist outside of coercive and exploitative economic and political systems. For example, when incorporating legally to avoid legal persecution or in order to access basic government services (e.g. unemployment benefits), a cooperative may be forced to adopt certain organization processes and roles they would not have otherwise installed in order to incorporate. Additionally, some relationships in which power is greatly imbalanced (e.g. a grant maker and grant recipient), there will always be an unavoidable level of coercion - but, it is possible to manage these dynamics to limit harm. "Relationships of Coercion" exist in various intensities throughout our lives, and understanding where and how coercion shapes our relationships is essential to effectively and safely managing those dynamics.
- Non-Cooperative Institutions
- Cooperative Institutions
The start-up or expansion of commercial activities is typically understood as “development” in mainstream cooperative discourse. However, for the cooperative philosophers outlined in this toolkit and the coopyouth interviewed, "Cooperative Development" is reflective of the constant striving of individuals within cooperatives to better themselves and self-actualize through community. In this way, cooperation is not an end, but a means to collective liberation, and its development is constant and neverending. “Cooperativism tends toward order which is not static, but is in constant evolution towards a better form” (Arizmendiarrieta, 55). That said, those moments of change that are conventionally conceived of as development (e.g. adding a new product or service, taking on new members) are especially delicate and important in the context of cooperative striving, as navigating those phases of great transformation can either prove to be especially productive or destructive in our pursuit of cooperative liberation.
When internal conflict or an external crisis affects a cooperative, its impact depends on a number of factors - including a cooperative’s culture, the nimbleness of its decision-making systems, and whether planning for such instances has occurred. Overall, most of the collected commentary focuses on how to de-personalize or avoid interpersonal conflicts, rather than how to mediate interpersonal conflicts. The reason for this is that it was revealed that most interpersonal conflicts are actually symptoms of systemic inefficiencies or inequities that cannot be solved through mediation. As a result, much of the experiences with crises or conflicts are opportunities for "Cooperative Development," which is a constant process that involves especially key moments when a cooperative can experience maturation or setbaks. Much of “Conflict and Crisis” includes reflections gained through experiences during the COVID pandemic, as well, thereby providing a uniquely thorough view of how youth cooperatives around the world have managed to deal with global catastrophe.
- Conflict & Emotional Management Skills
- Crisis Response
- Relationships Can Save Us
Access to financial "Capital" – money, credit, investment – is important to most known cooperatives; however, it is important to note that a cooperative does not have to trade in financial capital to qualify as a cooperative. For coopyouth, accessing capital is consistently named as one of the biggest challenges facing individual youth and their cooperatives in various CoopYouth Research as well as in interviews for this toolkit. Many conventional financial institutions are unwilling to lend or work with cooperatives in a way that respects the model and philosophy. Coopyouth have evolved a number of creative solutions outside the conventional financial systems, as a result.
- External Capital = External Control
- Reparations & Redistribution
This is a universal issue for all generations of cooperatives and cooperators. “Cooperative Culture” speaks primarily to how well the Cooperative Identity is expressed socially in cooperatives - in how interpersonal relationships are nurtured, how each individual is cupported, and how the collective is respected by all those in the group. It addresses organizational practices and structures like those outlined in “Structure and Participation,” but also acknowledges that structures and processes to not make or maintain culture on their own. The social and cultural practices reflective of cooperativism and the Cooperative Identity are what make the identity of “cooperative” and “cooperator” authentic, not by taking on the name “cooperative,” having a particular structure, qualifying for a cooperative statute., etc.
- Enterprise vs. Business
- Homo Cooperativus
The Cooperative Identity, as argued by Laidlaw, Arizmendiarrieta, and other cooperative scholars, implies the creation of multi-stakeholder cooperative communities or commonwealths that eclipse capitalism and other harmful systems, thereby leading to broad-scale social transformation. In some instances, this alignment with social transformation is not explicitly named as it “goes without saying” and is an implicitly understood aspect of the cooperative’s work (see “Cooperative Culture”). In others, the cooperative cannot openly advocate for transformative ideologies seeking the end of predominant systems of social, political, and economic control because doing so can endanger their lives or freedoms (e.g. due to repressive governmental regimes). An explicit commitment to the transformation of society is far more common among youth cooperatives than cooperatives of other age groups. Within those youth cooperatives that unambiguously express their alignment with social transformation, being accountable to their cooperative’s role in broad-scale societal change is an essential expression of the Cooperative Identity.
- Movement Orientation
- First-Next Step
This toolkit has applicability across all the generations of the cooperative movement, as elders and youth, alike, can learn from and employ the strategies of coopyouth. Coopyouth have a tremendous amount of wisdom, only a portion of which is included herein - “there are untapped resources in many memberships, especially among women and young people. Much of the future success of the cooperative movement will depend upon a willingness to recognize true equality between women and men in the deliberations of cooperative organizations; much of the vitality will come from the involvement of young people” (MacPherson 1998, 238). Coopyouth and their collective wisdom have not had a sufficient voice and platform in the movement to date, though this is changing due to years of work by coopyouth organizers around the world. The commentary from coopyouth on these key issues is testament to that shift.