Multi-stakeholder cooperatives:  connective strategies – solidarity as a business model

Communities, businesses and leaders working together can create a viable economy that recirculates dollars and celebrates locality as a strategy.

Multi-stakeholder cooperatives enable communities to meet both economic needs and social objectives, like advancing commonalities and shared visions for a more holistic economy. While this may sound like something a community desires, it is not an easy task. Links to establish better communications and understanding of goals are required to overcome both indifference and doubt created by animosity. Some of the complexities include individual expectations and transaction cost structures.

A jointly owned and democratically controlled cooperative organization has at its core social and cultural, as well as economic needs. The term, multi-stakeholder cooperatives brings many questions. Primary among these are: Who owns it? Who controls it? And who derives benefits from it?

As with any cooperative, the collective wisdom and talents of individual owner/members are utilized to help provide policy and direction.  The cooperative board decides the services to be offered. The driving prime directive is to allow the community to access goods and services not being met by the public or private sector of the local economy. This will enhance both purchasing power and dollars spend to remain local. Prices charged for goods and services need to benefit the community and provide sufficient profit for continued activity. A good example of this is a local Credit Union. While savers want the highest rates for their deposits, borrowers want low rates. Both are essential for business viability.

 Every Multi-stakeholder cooperative should seek out membership from wide group of interests. Suppliers and users of services are naturally important as are the inclusion of local community supporters. The need to move beyond transactional level to shared values and outcomes should include; social objectives, reliable supply in marketplace at reasonable (justifiable) price, and a vehicle for contribution of success. Communities can build it better themselves than private or government sectors have or are likely to.

While communities seek long lasting episodes of business activity, short term gains are needed to be meaningful. The benefits in short term need to be well thought out and business planning is a vital tool to accomplish this. Michigan State University Extension Educators working with the MSU Product Center work with cooperatives to provide assistance toward positive business outcomes

For more information on multi-stakeholder cooperatives see the publication Solidarity as a Business Model of the Cooperative Development Center at Kent State University

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