The history of cooperatives goes back 150 years. The cooperative pioneers of last century might, today, have great difficulty relating to the huge cooperatives that exist in some industrialized countries that are the offspring of their early efforts. They would have even more difficulty recognizing the myriad other bodies in developing and former Soviet bloc countries that bear the name “cooperative” but which appear to have drawn little from the basic cooperative principles of democratic member control and one member, one vote. The pioneers would have many reasons to be proud, but many others to be dismayed.
As the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of the first recognized cooperative was celebrated, the International Cooperative Alliance celebrated its own centenary. On these two occasions, FAO wished to contribute a paper aimed at stimulating more open discussion on a number of key issues affecting the global cooperative movement as it moves into the XXIst Century. The paper is willingly blunt, and sometimes may appear provocative. This is partly intentional so as to stimulate debate on certain fundamental questions which the global movement has seemed either unwilling or unable to face squarely, but which it may now wish to do. The aim of the paper is not to criticise the cooperative image. It aims, rather, to appeal for a thorough review of the cooperative family as a means to strengthen the global movement and make it better prepared to occupy an important place in the economic and social set-up of the next century.
While the paper was commissioned by the FAO People's Participation Service, it is important to stress that the views expressed in it are the author's and should not be interpreted as necessarily representing those of FAO.
Michael P. Cracknell