Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The properties of a True Collaborative Society

H Luce Says:
April 2nd, 2013 at 11:25 pm
Any enterprise which advertises itself as a “collaborative society” and yet is run as an entrepreneurial business with a small or one-man leadership group, accountable to no one within that “society”, should not be recognized as a “collaborative society” but rather as an attempt by an entrepreneur to amass enough intellectual and monetary capital and get a product with a market in place and the physical plant to produce it at the expense of his work force, in order to go into a “for-profit” business organization.

A true collaborative society should have the following properties:
1. The members of the society are partners and co-owners, each with an equal share in the business;
2. Each member owns the right to an equal share of the profits generated, and the right to decide whether to take his or her full share, to put part of the share back into the business for the acquisition of capital goods, and has the right to inspect the financial records of the society at any time;
3. The decision-making takes place by a consensus process, which necessarily limits the size of the society.

Of course, questions will arise, and more rules will have to be put down to deal with those questions, but these seem to be a minimum set.

Here’s the current version of the Rochdale Principles:


Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.


The co-operative principles are guidelines by which co-operatives put their values into practice.

1. Voluntary and Open Membership

Co-operatives are voluntary organisations, 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.

2. Democratic Member Control

Co-operatives are democratic organisations 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. In primary co-operatives members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote) and co-operatives at other levels are also organised in a democratic manner.

3. Member Economic Participation

Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of their co-operative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the co-operative. Members usually receive limited compensation, if any, on capital subscribed as a condition of membership. Members allocate surpluses for any or all of the following purposes: developing their co-operative, possibly by setting up reserves, part of which at least would be indivisible; benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the co-operative; and supporting other activities approved by the membership.

4. Autonomy and Independence

Co-operatives are autonomous, self-help organisations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organisations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their co-operative autonomy.

5. Education, Training and Information

Co-operatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their co-operatives. They inform the general public – particularly young people and opinion leaders – about the nature and benefits of co-operation.

6. Co-operation among Co-operatives

Co-operatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the co-operative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.

7. Concern for Community

Co-operatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members.” (from ica.coop/en/what-co-op/co-operative-identity-values-principles)

Of course, democratic control can be fairly easily subverted by means of voting blocs to convert the cooperative into a regular for-profit business which is why a consensus process, along with the fractionation of ownership of the capital, including intellectual property (perhaps under a variant of the Creative Commons licensing scheme) and capital improvements, should be used in order to thwart attempts at this.

Here’s an interesting look at the development and history of the Rochdale project: usaskstudies.coop/pdf-files/Rochdale.pdf

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