Cooperatives are member-owned, member-governed businesses that operate for the benefit of their members according to common principles agreed upon by the international cooperative community. In co-ops, members pool resources to bring about economic results that are unobtainable by one person alone. Most simply put, a cooperative is a business:
- voluntarily owned by the people who use it, and
- operated for the benefit of its members.
Co-ops can be organized for the benefit of consumers, producers and workers and operate in almost all areas. For instance, consumer co-ops provide food, housing, health care (the original HMOs were co-ops), financial services (credit unions), and other goods and services. Producer co-ops most typically offer agricultural services for farmers - either inputs (e.g. seed, fertilizer, fencing) or processing and marketing (e.g. milk bottling and cheese production). Worker co-ops offer cab services, cleaning, manufacturing, and food production. Regardless of the goods and services provided, co-ops aim to meet their members' needs.
Most of the co-ops affiliated with NCG are consumer cooperatives, which means that they are owned by the people who shop at the stores. Consumer members exercise their ownership by investing in co-op shares, patronizing the store, and electing a board of directors to hire, guide, and evaluate the general manager who runs day-to-day operations.