Co-operatives – a blast from the past?

We have all heard about co-operatives but what are they really?

The most global and best-known definition on which public international co-operative law is based (Henrÿ 2012), comes from the Promotion of Cooperatives Recommendation ILO R. 193 -statement (2002). This statement defines a co-operative like this: “… the term “cooperative” means an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise”. 

In rural areas globally there has been a long tradition of doing things together. In Finland we call this a “talkoot” –tradition. The organization of field work, celebrations, harvesting together has traditionally been a beneficial solution for everybody in rural communities. Cooperation as a more organized form was advanced from this tradition and it started as a business model for poor people and people in rural areas.

So – are co-operatives like historical monuments located maybe only in rural areas?

No. Co-operatives have 1 billion members around the world today (ICA; Mills and Davies 2013) and globally 300 largest co-operatives had a combined annual turn-over of $2 trillion in 2010 (Euricse 2012).  So we could say that co-operatives are still here.

And not only the big ones. Finland has a long cooperative history and we are still “the most cooperative country in the world” when you compare the number of people to the different memberships of different co-operatives. There are big Finnish co-operatives like Metsä Group, S-group or Osuuspankki Co-operative Bank but we are also living in the time of the rise of small co-operatives.

The number and also the diversity of fields of small co-operatives have grown from 90’s to this day. For example there are continuously more new small co-operatives in the fields of consulting, education, social and health care, art, culture, media etc. An especially interesting phenomenon are student co-operatives as a mixture of studying and real life entrepreneurship. (Troberg 2014.)

Co-operatives pursue stakeholder value, not shareholder value. Isn´t this something we could also have more right now in our modern world? So where could we learn more about co-operatives? If you get interested, the answer is surprisingly easy: You can start studying in the Co-op Network Studies (CNS) web courses. It is a university network which offers students the possibility to take cooperative and other social economy enterprises related matters as a multidisciplinary minor subject.

The CNS network consists of eight universities in Finland, namely Aalto University School of Economics in Helsinki, the University of Eastern Finland in Kuopio and Joensuu, the University of Helsinki, the University of Jyväskylä, the Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT), the University of Oulu, the University of Tampere, and the University of Turku. The network is coordinated by the University of Helsinki Ruralia Institute in Mikkeli. The Finnish Co-operative Advisory Board (Osuustoiminnan neuvottelukunta), representative of the cooperative movement in Finland) is a partner of the network and one of its main funders.

University students from the network universities can freely take either a few courses or bigger minor entities from our selection: Basic study level (five courses) entity and intermediate study level (five courses) entity. And if you are not a university student you can still study in our courses through the University of Helsinki Open University.

So co-operatives are simultaneously something from our history, something from our present day and surely something from our future, too. And you are invited to learn more – welcome!


Pekka Hytinkoski

E-Learning coordinator

University of Helsinki Ruralia Institute

Co-op Network Studies



Euricse. 2012. World Co-operative Monitor: Exploring the Co-operative. Explorative Report 2012. Www-version also available: (29.1.2015)

Henrÿ, H. 2012. Guidelines for Cooperative Legislation. Third revisited edition. Geneva: ILO, 2012. Www-version also available: (29.1.2015)

ICA; Mills, C. & Davies, W. 2013.  Blueprint fora Co-operative Decade. Www-version also available: (29.1.2015).

International Labour Organization (ILO). 2002. R193 – Promotion of Cooperatives Recommendation, 2002 (No. 193). Recommendation concerning Promotion of Cooperatives. Www-version also available: (29.1.2015).

Troberg, E. 2014.  Osuustoiminnan idea. Pellervo-seura. Www-version also available: (29.1.2015).