Welcome to the Curriculum on Cooperatives!

Quote of the day:
“Communities tell me: We don’t want to use the term co-op,” said Sean Park, a program manager for the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs. He has helped guide rural towns through setting up their own markets. “It’s ironic because it was farmers who pioneered co-ops. They’re O.K. with ‘community store.’ They’re the same thing, but you’ve got to speak the language.”
New York Times, 5 November 2019

This site has now been ported to a new server and may have broken links or missing resources. Please
let me know if you find any problems. Thank you!

Would you kindly give us feedback on your experience with this Cooperative Curriculum wiki
here? Many thanks!

This site is maintained as a service to the public and the cooperative community by the
Museum for Black Innovation and Entrepreneurship, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational organization. We are entirely volunteer, and welcome donations that help us pay for web hosting, filing business registration fees, and production of educational resources. Thank you!

Download the Museum's IRS Letter of Determination

Conversion to cooperatives just got easier.

October 28, 2019

Dear Cooperative Friend,

As a Cooperative Month project, a group of retired employees of USDA's Cooperative Services
program has put together a brief history of the
“rise and fall” of the agency, as well as some
talking points that address why this program – now on the brink of extinction – should be saved.
Both documents are attached to this email. Please circulate them among your staffs and

In coming weeks, we plan to visit with some key leaders in the House and Senate to share
these documents and to urge Congress to require that USDA fulfill its mandate under the
Cooperative Marketing Act, which directs USDA to maintain a program that strengthens
the nation's co-op sector with education, research, statistics and technical assistance.

Many in the co-op community are unaware of just how dire the situation is. As of this writing, a
program that numbered about 75 cooperative specialists in the mid-1990s is now down to three
professionals. For many, the agency lost visibility when USDA abruptly killed Rural
Cooperatives magazine about a year ago, ending its 84 years in production without a word of
explanation to the public. Staff was not even allowed to print a final issue, which was ready to
go to press (see the attached white paper for further details). Bottom line: USDA wanted to keep
this action as quiet as possible, since it knew this was virtually the last nail in the coffin of the
co-op program.

After the plug was pulled on the magazine, a few of us left in the program shifted attention to
updating some of our more popular co-op educational handbooks. The “Organizations Serving
Cooperatives” directory and a greatly expanded and improved version of the “ Do Yourself a
Favor, Join a Cooperative” brochure were ready for printing, but were then allowed to die on the vine. 
To those co-op organizations that kindly submitted articles and photos for the directory and brochure,
please accept our apology that USDA wasted your time. Projects like these do not just start at
the whim of staff – all had been approved by program leadership, but the support was then reversed.

Please consider supporting the effort to save USDA's co-op program by letting your
Congressional representatives know of the urgent need to require USDA – the home of the only
federal program charged with supporting co-ops – to once again fulfill its duties as mandated in
the Cooperative Marketing Act.


Dan Campbell, USDA Co-op Publications Editor (retired)

For questions or comments, please contact:

New, from E.G. and Luc Nadeau!

Cooperative Communicators Association is accepting requests for grants to support professional development here:
Shirley K. Sullivan Education Fund.

It's here:
//Concern for Community: The Relevance of Cooperatives to Peace//!
More links about this book:
How to order (free)

Get your free
Cooperatives for Sustainable Communities book here.

The first edition of the curriculum began posting in January 2011 and new topics and other materials are being added periodically.
To go directly to sample syllabi, go to
Options (syllabi are a work in progress); for case studies go to Case Studies.
If you have questions or suggestions or wish to contribute new material, please contact
John R. Whitman.

See useful links in the
Resources page.

New: How Equal Exchange raises capital consistent with its mission:
EE-capital-May 2015.pdf

Re organizations with a social mission: Understanding the Social Economy of the United States (University of Toronto Press, 2015):Mook.UnderstandingSocialEconomyUS.pdf

Excellent article on a key cooperative initiative:

Key concepts:

What is a cooperative?

A cooperative is an organization that is equally owned and democratically controlled by its members for their own benefit, with each member having one vote.

For those interested in starting a cooperative (notably a worker cooperative), there must be a
demand for your goods or services in order to create a market for the cooperative. No demand, no market, no cooperative. Too often, folks come together eager to start a cooperative, but have neglected to determine whether a market for what they produce exists. It is hard enough to start a business, any business, but without a demand, it will be impossible.

It is essential to underscore the social implications of a business enterprise defined by meeting the needs of its members. This means that the business is centered around the people who own and control the business to serve their needs, their values, and the communities in which they live. Thus the cooperative employs economics to serve social needs, rather than vice versa. Moreover, because cooperatives engage their members in democratic decision making, they contribute to building democratic social norms and an inclusive rather than an extractive ethos.

This is in contrast to an investor-owned business in which investors, whether inside or outside the business, maximize their profits from the business. It is also in contrast to nonprofit organizations, in which no entity owns the organization’s assets, which are mean to serve the public interest.

However, a cooperative can operate as a nonprofit organization, and likewise, a business corporation can have bylaws that make it operate as a cooperative.

Here is an excellent interview on converting existing businesses to worker cooperatives:

See these two cool
videos on how Equal Exchange supports coffee farmer cooperatives.

Cooperative Development Services for cooperative development assistance.

Types of Cooperatives

There are many types of cooperatives, generally classified as producer cooperatives (to benefit the producers of a commodity, such as in agriculture), consumer cooperatives (to benefit the consumers of products, such as in a grocery cooperative), and service cooperatives (to benefit workers who deliver a service, such as in a home care cooperative). Some examples include:

  • Agricultural cooperatives
  • Credit unions (curiously not called cooperatives)
  • Educational cooperatives
  • Electric cooperatives
  • Health care cooperatives
  • Housing cooperatives
  • Worker cooperatives
  • Many more ...

Cooperative Principles

Cooperatives can adopt various principles that guide their operations, including the International Cooperative Alliance seven principles (
http://www.ica.coop/coop/principles.html), the Madison Principles (http://www.cooperationworks.coop/about/madison-principles), and the United States Department of Agriculture’s three defining characteristics of a cooperative as “an organization that is owned and controlled by patron members and operates for their benefit, distributing earnings proportional to use” (http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/rbs/pub/may09/economic.htm). A cooperative may also create its own principles, such as Mondragón (http://www.mondragon-corporation.com/ENG/Co-operativism/Co-operative-Experience/Co-operative-Culture.aspx).


Since cooperatives are both owned and controlled by their members, it is logical to expect such organizations to reflect the benefits of ownership and control, in contrast to organizations in which the work and profits generated by labor are appropriated by outside investors.

Moreover, because members receive the profits of their labor, such profits are likely to be circulated in their community, thus creating the so-called multiplier effect, benefiting others in the community. In addition, for those cooperatives that allocate resources to the ICA Principle 7, communities should benefit accordingly.


As promulgated by the United Nations International Year of Cooperatives in 2012, all cooperatives are urged to adopt the common slogan: “Cooperative Enterprises Build a Better World” (

By adopting a common slogan cooperatives, regardless of their names, will convey solidarity and raise public awareness of cooperatives as a beneficial form of organization.

Sector Introductions

For brief introductions to key cooperative sectors in the United States, see these short videos from the
2011 Cooperative Issues Forum.
The Cooperative Issues Forum for 2013 will take place at the National Press Club in Washington, DC from 3 to 5:30 PM on Wednesday, 8 May. The theme is The Power of Collaboration: Cooperatives as Catalysts in the Community. The event is free and open to the public. Register to attend at


This Curriculum on Cooperatives for Graduate Schools is designed for students in professional graduate schools (though the material could easily be adapted to other venues, including undergraduate school). The curriculum is presented in three modes: As a semester-long course, typically consisting of 14 class sessions; as a half-semester course, lasting 7 class sessions; and as a two-part workshop, the parts of which may be attended individually or together in sequence. The semester-long course provides a reasonably thorough treatment of most cooperative issues consistent with what would be expected at the graduate school level. The half-course is designed as an introductory course on cooperatives. The Introduction to Cooperatives Workshop is meant to provide a rapid overview of cooperatives, differentiating them from other types of organizations, and providing students with information on how to find jobs with cooperatives and a brief treatment of how to start a cooperative with other cooperators.

The principal purpose here is not to duplicate material that has already been developed, but to reference it, build on it, and add new material. In the absence of a standard textbook, perhaps the best single available text (please send us alternative nominations) is
Cooperatives: Principles and practices in the 21st century, by Kimberly A. Zeuli and Robert Cropp (University of Wisconsin Extension, 2004).


This document, offered here with kind permission of Dr. Cropp, itself presents what many might expect as a practical curriculum, including definitions, principles, history, classifications, business models, financial management, and steps for organizing a cooperative. Drawing from this text, one can find immediately practical and useful information. The curriculum presented here draws on this text, but also adds what some might regard as more academic considerations that might be appropriate in graduate school but not seen as particularly practical for starting a cooperative. As this wiki evolves, we hope to satisfy more than one audience of users.

This Curriculum was funded by a grant from Equal Exchange, a fair trade cooperative, as part of accelerating the fulfillment of its 20 year vision adopted in 2006, that in 2026 there will be: “A vibrant mutually cooperative community of two million committed participants trading fairly one billion dollars a year in a way that transforms the world.” This mission statement is the outcome of a process that engaged all the members of the cooperative exemplifying the second cooperative principle of Democratic Member Control by members who actively participate in setting policies and making decisions. The grant-making function of Equal Exchange represents its commitment to the fifth cooperative principle, Education, Training, and Information, including informing the general public, particularly youth and opinion leaders, about the nature and benefits of cooperation (see the Principles portion of the Statement of Identity of the International Cooperative Alliance).

The development of the Curriculum, initially undertaken at Babson College, reflects the mission of the school revised in October 2009, that “Babson College educates leaders who create great economic and social value—everywhere.” This mission is notably innovative, for it explicitly gives equal status to social value at a school that traditionally has emphasized economic value. Even for those who regard economic value to be a social value, the inclusion of the entire domain of social values in the institution’s statement of mission is liberating to faculty members who have longed to address the social value dimensions of the business and entrepreneurial enterprise in their courses, advising, and co-curricular activities. It is also potentially transformative for the students who benefit from learning in an environment in which their own social values become a salient focus of respect, reflection, and potential change.

The focus on cooperatives is particularly pertinent to this mission statement because cooperatives represent a business model that creates both economic and social value by virtue of their fundamental structural characteristics—that members, not investors, own the cooperative; that members democratically control the cooperative; and that members determine the distribution of the net earnings of the cooperative, thus keeping control of the economic value of their cooperative in the community.

The creation of this Curriculum is particularly timely with reference to the United Nations designation of 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives. Though cooperatives, in their manifold forms and expressions, have a long and deep history, perhaps finally, after the tumultuous economic and governmental regulatory failures of the early 21st century, we have arrived at a perfect nexus of a new, global generation of youth who expect and demand the highest priority to social and environmental values; a truly globally-linked community of inescapable interconnections and interests made possible by technology; and a democratic business model that intrinsically reflects the values and choices of its members. Indeed, the time for cooperatives everywhere has come.

Yet the cooperative model is not perfect, and is certainly no better than the capacities and commitments of the members who constitute the cooperative. Thus the cooperative is a demanding partner, one whose efficacy depends upon the faithful commitment of its members continuously to educate themselves on matters crucial to the cooperative’s wellbeing, and to engage in deliberative and democratic consultations on how to ensure that the cooperative enterprise flourishes in a competitive world dominated by non-cooperative forces. Those responsible for formulating the economic development and growth plans for their respective nations and those engaged in negotiating regulations for international economic trade would do well to listen to the messages in the International Year of the Cooperative, for there is surely great potential for cooperatives to play an even greater role in economic development plans and poverty reduction in ways that also create social capital, cohesion, and solidarity. At the very least, this Curriculum is positioned to advance this cause through opinion leaders emerging from professional graduate schools worldwide.

The organization of this Curriculum is divided into six sections. In the next section we will present the purpose of the curriculum and describe its development process and design. The subsequent two sections were prepared to provide the teacher with two conceptual tools that may be useful when learning about cooperatives for the first time. The third section presents two considerations that may help the teacher new to cooperatives better understand their context in society and what makes them different from other types of organizations.

Section four consists of the three curricular options noted above, presented as a teaching guide that provides the teacher with an overview of the material to be presented in each class, background reading for the teacher, the learning objectives for the class, required reading for students, optional reading for students, and exercises, if any, for individual student or group work. Section five presents two research case studies to be used for educational purposes in the curriculum. Finally, section six provides other resources, including educational programs, a listing of cooperative educators who have self-selected to be included, and selected cooperative association and funding sources in Canada, the United States, Puerto Rico, and elsewhere in the world. The

Appendices provide further background information, sample syllabi for the full- and half-semester courses, and other resources. You are free to use and modify these materials consistent with the Creative Commons License terms.

Note that although the Curriculum was initially designed at Babson, it is not offered as a course in a degree program at Babson and thus is not a Babson Curriculum or a Babson Course, which would require approval by the requisite faculty policy committee. This wiki is being maintained on a voluntary and independent basis without continuing funding.

How to Use This Site

If you are a teacher and wish to develop your own course and syllabus on cooperatives, feel free to draw on the material presented here. Suggestions for class topics or sessions are provided for a 14-session course, a 7-session course, and a one or two day workshop on cooperatives. These are only suggestions; feel free to create your own. Then use the sections under Course Topics as a basis to plan each class session. Again, these are only guides; you may wish to create your own approach to topics of interest to you.

The curriculum presented here will hopefully evolve based on your contributions. Look at it as a “quilt” composed of elements that have been crafted and contributed by members of our community at large. To contribute to the quilt, you first need to sign up in the wiki. If you wish to keep your material intact, post it as a .pdf file; if you are willing to allow others to modify it in true wiki fashion subject to the Creative Commons Copyright License posted here, simply post your material as a page, which will then be open for others to modify. As a community, we are always striving to improve the curriculum and to take it in directions that can better serve individual needs.

If you have any questions or suggestions, please contact
John R. Whitman.


Whitman, J. R. (2011).
The Curriculum on Cooperatives. Retrieved from https://www.cooperativecuriculum.org (date cited).
Individual authors should be cited accordingly.



Creative Commons License

Unless otherwise indicated, this work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.