Anyone can start a co-op. Nothing could be simpler. All it takes is a bright idea shared by at least two people – no co-op is too small to make a difference. You meet, decide what to call yourselves – and away you go.
However, durable co-ops usually combine the excitement of the first idea with some clear-headed thinking – which can be rewarding, too. Look for the most difficult questions you can possibly ask yourselves. Is anyone else doing the same thing? If so, what can you learn from them? If not, is it such a bright idea after all?
There is no formula. All kinds of co-ops abound and they work in different ways. It’s important to find – or invent – the right way for you. Regulations and tax regimes vary from one country to the next – they can make a very big difference. Two things always matter more than most:
Never lose sight of your ideals. Keep them alive and kicking. That’s what co-ops are for – and why they can be the best way to translate your ideals into practice.
Co-operation – not competition – between co-ops is a basic principle. There’s a network to promote it, which can save you a lot of time and trouble.
So, one of your first moves should be to find your nearest useful contact. It might be another co-op. If you’re lucky, there’ll be a good local co-op development association. If not, contact your regional or national association and they should be able to help – or to put you in touch with someone who can.
New Zealand Co-operatives Association,
Level 5, Agriculture House,
12 Johnston Street,
tel: (+64) 4 472 4595
fax: (+64) 4 472 4538
Co-operative Federation of Victoria Ltd,
71 Franciscan Avenue,
tel: (+61) 9785 6704
fax: (+61) 9785 6542
Manchester M60 0AS.
tel: (+44) 161 246 2900
fax: (+44) 161 831 7684
email: via website
Canadian Co-operative Association,
400-275 Bank Street,
Ottawa, Ontario, K2P 2L6.
tel: (+1) 613 238 6711
fax: (+1) 613 567 0658
University of Wisconsin Center for Co-operatives,
National Co-operative Business Association,
1401 New York Ave NW,
Washington DC 200005.
tel: (+1) 202 638 6222
fax: (+1) 202 638 1374
The International Co-operative Alliance (ICA)
15, route des Morillons,
tel: (+41) 22 929 88 88
fax: (+41) 22 798 41 22
The ICA was set up at the end of the 19th century and is now based in Geneva, where it has formal links with the United Nations, and with the International Labour Organization (ILO) in particular. It has regional offices for the Americas, Asia and the Pacific, Central and Southern Africa and Europe. It also has organizations for agriculture, fisheries, banking, consumers, health, housing, insurance, tourism and workers.
Note that [coop](http://www.coop.org) domain names, though relatively expensive, are available only to co-ops and so may be able to give you the name you really want. You can register via the ICA website.