Cooperating for Inclusion

Submitted by: Joy Emmanuel, Co-op Developer & Member of Inclusive Leadership Co-op


Did you know that the Inclusive Leadership Co-operative is part of an international network of co-operatives around the world? Did you know that for almost 200 years, the co-operative model has been adopted both for running businesses (i.e. consumer co-ops, worker co-ops, financial co-ops/credit unions) and for providing a host of community services (i.e. housing, funeral services, social programs and occasionally as educational co-ops)? Did you know that the Inclusive Leadership Co-op was incorporated in 2013 as a non-profit community service co-operative? What does all that mean? And what does being a co-operative have to do with inclusion?

What is considered the first “modern” day co-operative was started by under-paid, working class people who were aware that many merchants in their town were over-charging them and selling tainted products (such as flour mixed with chalk dust! Ugh!). They decided to come together to start their own store for their member-owners. Today, in the international co-op movement, they are known as the Rochdale Pioneers.

Asia Pics 276 (2)

Joy visiting members of an Indonesian co-op who are signing an Agreement to reunite ex-paramilitary persons of their community and welcome them back into their regional co-op association

This first co-op began in the 1840s in the UK, but co-operatives were also growing up in many other parts of the world, essentially growing out of grass-roots, self-help movements. For example, worker co-ops began to form in France in the decades following the French Revolution while early forms of credit unions grew up in Germany. In many non-industrialized countries, co-operatives had their roots in collective endeavors to farm, fish and provide for the needs of community members.

While there were many efforts to start formal co-ops, the Rochdale Pioneers were one of the few that was successful. Over time, they identified and summarized what they felt were the key principles guiding their success. As co-ops in different countries began to connect-up and eventually formed the International Co-operative Alliance (1895) they adopted and expanded these principles and identified a set of values that are intricate to how co-ops work. Today, this is known as the Co-operative Identity Statement.

These international co-op values include: self-help, self-responsibility, equality, solidarity, honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.


One of the seven international co-op principles, which was added in 1995, is titled: Concern for Community. This principle is important as it is part of what makes co-ops a distinct way of doing business and, giving back to their communities was important to their success. After all, this is where the members live, work and play. Today, there are many ways that co-ops and credit unions give back to their communities.

As someone who has worked in the co-op sector for a number of years, when I heard about Inclusive Leadership and the interest in forming a co-op, I had a big smile and a YES! I could see that Inclusive Leadership was all about how to live some of those values and bring them to the forefront of our daily lives.


What I see is that the Inclusive Leadership Co-op is very much about Principle Seven – how we express concern for our community – in this case by creating more inclusive and welcoming spaces. The Inclusive Leadership Co-operative has taken on a big mission. “We bring people from diverse backgrounds together to nurture and mentor Inclusive Leadership development in ourselves, our communities and our world.”

This is not always an easy path to walk, but it is, and always will be, an important way to show up and cooperate with others in our communities – where we live, work and play.