About the event
The International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) was formed around this time in 1895, and since 1927 it has observed the first Saturday of July as International Day of Co-operatives to highlight the contribution that co-operatives make across the world. Cooperatives are people-centred enterprises owned, controlled and run by and for their members to realise their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations. Co-ops range from small-scale to multi-million dollar businesses in over 100 countries across the globe, employ more than 100 million people and have more than 800 million individual members.
In 1992, the day was made an official observance by the UN. The UN hopes to highlight how, through co-operative systems, people can work together to support themselves in moving out of poverty, rather than being dependent on aid. Co-operatives show that a more equal economic system is possible and that wealth can be distributed more evenly across populations. Studying co-operatives can help students study topics such as trade, business management and workers' rights but also teamwork, equality and community.
How to approach it
Firstly, this day is a good opportunity to raise awareness about what a co-operative is and how it functions. It may be helpful here to contrast a co-operative with other kinds of businesses. You could explain that the main differences are about ownership and control over a business. Traditional businesses may have one owner, a few partners or shareholders controlled by a board of directors. What these things have in common is that everyone else in the company has a limited say on how the company is run and who receives the businesses profit. On the other hand, cooperatives are collectively owned and run by all of the people who work in that company. This means they are more involved in decision making and entitled to a share of the company’s profits. At this point you could give some examples of co-operatives such as John Lewis, Co-op supermarkets or FC Barcelona.
After briefly explaining the function of a cooperative, move on to a discussion about the values behind starting such organisations. Help students to think through what might be better about a co-operative organisation. Here, you could suggest concepts such as equality, fairness, sharing or workplace democracy. A good activity for getting students thinking about this is our class activity on wealth distribution where students are given unequal amounts of money and tasked with different challenges.
After beginning this discussion about inequality, help students to think through how a co-operative might be used to create fairer societies. You could suggest that when greater people have a say in businesses, decisions are more likely to be equitable or when people have similar amounts of money everyone can afford to live comfortably. Finally, ask students what the co-operative model might suggest about how society should be organised in general. Ask: if it’s better to share and to include others in decision making, what would a society look like if we did this more often?