There is a different way of doing business and alternative business models are gaining attention as the focus increasingly shifts away from the creation of private profit to returns that include social, economic, community and cultural benefits. The United Nations has declared 2012 as the International Year of the Cooperatives (IYC) which aims to develop awareness and draw attention to the invaluable contribution of co-operative enterprises. IYC also highlights the increasing interest in providing socially equitable business options where community needs are addressed and member’s voices are heard.
The term co-operative describes a system where individuals or groups jointly own an enterprise, share in the profits and work towards a common goal. There are a number of different types of co-operatives, for example producer run and worker run, but a key point of difference for a co-operative is the democratic structure that gives member’s a sense of ownership.
Co-operatives can vary from small organisations, such as a community supermarket that sells household essentials, to large scale financial services like credit unions that offer banking services to their members. The top 300 cooperatives now have revenue comparable to the GDP of Canada and, here in Australia, the top 100 have a turnover in excess of $17 billion. The success of cooperative movements, however, is less about money and more about being part of a civil and democratic society that espouses equal opportunity, equality, a fair go – in other words social justice.
The co-operative model challenges traditional business models, providing a more holistic approach that also considers social inclusion and aims to benefit the majority of members rather than a select few. In light of the global financial crisis, the IYC is a timely reminder for us to examine conventional business models and the effect they have on the community, economy and environment. Bridging the divide and creating a more inclusive society is key to strengthening local economies and empowering and building the community.
In 2002, the Yackandandah Community was under threat of losing an essential town service. Established by seven concerned locals, The Yackandandah Community Company Ltd (YCDCo) prevented external ownership of a local fuel supply by gathering community support from 622 local shareholders. With objectives to return 50% of profits to Yackandandah, the community has now assumed control of the petrol station retaining one of its primary sources of income and essential resources.
Infoxchange's SocialDesign team specialises in print and digital media projects that enhance communications in the sector. We have developed websites and print communications for a variety of organisations including social firms, not-for-profits in the health, welfare and community sector and co-operative enterprises including the Fitzroy and Carlton Community Credit Co-operative.
Increasing public awareness about alternative business models, including co-operative enterprises, is one way Infoxchange is working towards creating a more equitable society and supporting the organisations that share this common goal. Infoxchange is a not-for-profit community focused organisation that works primarily to enable technology for social justice. Infoxchange has worked with numerous cooperatives over the years and offers community focused organisations a range of products and services that drive positive social change - from computer refurbishment through to ICT consultancy and software testing. Our vision of technology for social justice is closely aligned with the efforts of cooperatives to instil more fairness in the way we conduct our social and economic lives.
The United Nation International years program aims to draw attention to and encourage action on major issues. Creating awareness about co-operatives brings to light alternative business models and the invaluable contribution they make to broader social, economic and environmental issues. This awareness promotes viable alternatives to traditional models and fosters support for organisations that operate with the big picture in mind.
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