Your guide to the cooperative movement

Illustration credit: Innosanto Nagara

Cooperatives are all the rage! And that’s because cooperatives are, well, pretty great. They can change lives, communities, regions, and entire economies.

At the same time, while an increasing number of people are discovering cooperatives, it’s not always clear how or where to learn more about them – whether you want the fundamentals or to dig in deeper with specifics.

That’s why we at the TESA Collective put together a study guide for the cooperative movement. This guide – while not a complete and total list – provides tools, activities, videos, readings, and more to help you brush up on your cooperative skills and knowledge. Some of these resources are free, some of them have a cost. But all of them will help you better understand what a cooperative is, how to practice cooperation, and the power of the cooperative movement.

The materials below are not intended to be used necessarily in any order. Pick and choose from the guide what works for you!

Finally, this guide should be viewed as a continual work in progress – we’ll be adding and updating content. So if there’s anything missing or that you think should be amended, please fill out the form at the bottom of this guide to let us know.

Now, without further ado, let’s dive into the big, exciting world of the co-op movement.

What is a Co-op?

Let’s start with the basics, shall we? “What is a Co-op?” is a short booklet that covers co-ops 101: ranging from what co-ops are in a nutshell to the types of co-ops, cooperative principles, steps to starting a co-op, and more.

You can download it for free from our site here.

Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives

We at TESA created Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives to be both a fun game and a cooperative movement building tool. It’s great for homes, game nights, workshops, classrooms, cooperative development spaces, and more. Fittingly, it is a cooperative game, where players win or lose together. Everyone plays as individuals in the cooperative, and they must work together to overcome obstacles for their collective success. Co-opoly has been praised in outlets such as Autostraddle and The Guardian and has been played in over 30 countries. The point of the game is to not just read about what it’s like to be in a cooperative, but to experience it.

Worker Cooperative Start-Up Guides

Specifically for worker cooperatives, “In Good Company: The Guide To Cooperative Employee Ownership” is a free, in-depth overview of worker cooperatives, how to start one, and how to run one. It was created by the Northcountry Cooperative Foundation.

Think Outside the Boss: How to Create a Worker Owned Enterprise” is another such manual, written more recently in 2013, by the Sustainable Economies Law Center.

Finally, Working and Rebuilding Together: Worker Cooperatives as an Economic Development Tool was created by the Woodrow Wilson of Public and International Affairs at Princeton with the organization Advance Memphis. The report is both an analysis of a variety of case studies and a series of resources and tools.

For All the People: Uncovering the Hidden History of Cooperation, Cooperative Movements, and Communalism in America

For All the People by John Curl is a book about, you guessed it, cooperative history in the United States. It’s a great study of the cooperative movement’s origins, impact, and where we can take the movement into the future. Plus, this is what Howard Zinn said about it: “It is indeed inspiring . . . to be reminded by John Curl’s new book of the noble history of cooperative work in the United States.”

Building Cooperative Power

Building Cooperative Power is a study of the cooperative movement in the Connecticut River Valley region, focusing on replicating these case studies while addressing the challenges and benefits for building the cooperative movement in other regions. It also gives practical advice on subjects such as co-op decision making, dialogue, and conflict resolution.

Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice

Collective Courage is a monumental and critically important work. But rather than us trying to describe it, watch author Jessica Gordon Nembhard do so herself:

Own the Change: Building Economic Democracy One Worker Co-op at a Time

Own the Change is a short and free documentary about what worker cooperatives are and how to start them, which TESA created alongside the Laura Flanders Show. It surveys people across the country who have started their own cooperatives as well as those who are generally helping to build the movement. The interviewees discuss the real world benefits and difficulties of being in a cooperative as well as launching one. You can watch the documentary below as well as on its own page. In addition, we offer an educational resource to go alongside the documentary. Finally, here’s a guide for watching the documentary in almost any language.

Shift Change: Putting Democracy to Work

Shift Change is another, longer documentary on worker cooperatives that came out recently. You can purchase the film via their website.

Collecting Ourselves: A Cooperative Entrepreneurship Curriculum

Made up of 9 unique interactive workshops, “Collecting Ourselves: A Cooperative Entrepreneurship Curriculum” is a curriculum that examines the philosophy and practice of cooperation and what it takes to start a co-op business.

This curriculum can be used in diverse settings, such as a university, a cooperative development program, or a personal study group. It was created with people from teens to their late thirties in mind, but it is flexible and can be adapted to most age groups, experiences, and so on.

Food for Change: The Story of Cooperatives in America

Food for Change is a film focusing on food and grocery consumer-owned cooperatives – their story, their history, and how they work. You can purchase the film via the documentary’s website.

Greenhorn’s Cooperative Manuals: Cooperative Farming / Affording OURLAND

We use both of the below manuals in our community college class: Starting Farm and Food Cooperatives. The manuals listed below were created by members of Greenhorns and the Cooperative Development Institute (CDI). They are both free downloads and are packed with useful information for practitioners, co-op start-ups, and educators. The two resources are:

Cooperative Farming is certainly the more co-op focused resource of the two, but both of the guidebooks work well together.

Readings from the Cooperative Development Institute

The Cooperative Development Institute helps start and improve cooperatives in the Northeast, but they’ve written great articles that can be used by people from all over! Here are some below:

Organizations to follow on Twitter for regular cooperative news

Miscellaneous Articles and Studies

Below is a list of some of the best articles and studies we’ve read about cooperatives and the co-op movement over the past few years.

As we said, this is not a complete list of every single cooperative resource, and so we’d like to continue growing the study guide. If there’s something missing from this list that you think we should add, fill out the form below. We’ll be regularly updating this post with new content.

In the meantime, happy studying!

Your Co-op Study Guide Submission or Comment

Ideas of other content that should go into this study guide? Fill out the form below!

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Want to create your own cooperative education tools, programs, and games?

We can work with you to do just that! Drop us a line in the form below.

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