Youth Realities & Responses

structure & participation handstyle







Albanyan CICS


Savings & Credit



Alchemy Collective Cafe


Wholesale/Retail (Food & Beverage)

United States of America (USA)


Comité Regional de Juventud (CRJ) Network Governance - Americas

Genç Işi (aka Youth Deal Cooperative)


Service (Education & Communications)



Knowledge Worker


Service (Technical Assistance)



Master Minds Producer Cooperative





Red Root Cooperative


Service (Multimedia Design & Production)




Manufacturing (Cleaning Products)



Youth Cooperative Hub

Multi- Stakeholder

Service (Advocacy & Technical Assistance)

South Africa







Statement on Cooperative Leadership


ICA Global Congress & Conference



Coherent Decision-Making

Red Root (Worker, Philippines) shared that, as an incorporated cooperative enterprise, the government mandates that their activities be split into separate “corporate” and “cooperative” categories that are effectively operations and governance, systems by a different name. This separation disallows the cooperative from doing certain things at certain times or together with other activities. As discussed in the introductory part of this section, this can result in a lack of transparency, when information and power does not flow freely throughout all the systems of an organization. To ensure continuity throughout the organization, as well as to avoid power accumulating or stagnating in one or the other system, they utilize consensus decision-making processes in all aspects of their cooperative. By using the same form of deliberation and decision-making in every area, it makes the cooperative feel less functionally divided while also maintaining a more organic feel to the flow of their communications and work. It is quite typical in some cooperatives to have vastly different deliberation and decision-making methods between governance and operations activities, in which governance decisions are majority-wins votes that tend not to facilitate discussion or adequately engage dissent. Coherent decision-making throughout a cooperative can serev to address these issues, in part.

  • Consensus:1 Several of the cooperatives interviewed utilize consensus in all or some of their organizational decision-making - e.g. Alchemy (Worker, USA), Genç Işi (Worker, Turkey) via a modified form called Sociocracy, (Worker, Greece). This decision-making method, ensures that all descisions are sufficiently discussed and all members engaged, which counteracts "rubber-stamp" voting or a subset of members making decisoins for the whole cooperative. It also cotributes to education and training of members, as information is openly discussed, questions can asked, and there are opportunities to ensure all understand the issues - if not, education can take place in the moment as part of the consensus process. Two of the included coopyouth statements call for more participatory deliberation and decision-making practices throughout the cooperative movement. The most direct and comprehensive call is included in the “CoopYouth Statement on Cooperative Leadership” from 2015 - 

“In order for our movement to be truly democratic, we must utilize participatory processes to openly discuss strategy, vision, and challenges. These processes must seek out consensus and engage large numbers of people, rather than rely heavily on representational models. The key ways in which we can accomplish this are to: 

1. Employ large group participatory processes

2. Utilize online participation tools to engage cooperative movement members in conversation year-round […]

3. Apply consensus-building and seeking models to the decision-making processes of our ICA, regional, and national federation Boards. We propose a move away from our false model of overly representational democracy.” 

  • 1 The linked handbook on consensus is from a UK based cooperative called Seeds for Change, and is an accessible and comprehensive articulation of consensus practice in a variety of contexts. Most simply, consensus is *not* voting and, instead, a way for a group to work together to find a solution that everyone in the group can live with, every time.


There are no required structures or systems that are required for an organization to be an adherent to the Cooperative Identity, with the exception of maintaining a general membership body. It would be futile to prescribe a single or set of systems for all cooperatives. Some youth cooperatives understand this very well, and employed methods by which to determine the best system structure for themselves:


Alchemy (Worker, USA) has persisted through several years of operation, and multiple expansions in their product offerings, services, and retail space. In the course of their evolutions, they’ve experimented with various organizational system configurations to determine the best fit. Reflecting upon their time when they had formally split governance and operations, they remarked that it “was the most contentious period of the cooperative[‘s]” life to date. Experimenting to find what works best for a cooperative is the only way to truly see what structures and participation best suit a cooperative’s culture and needs. Additionally, given that culture and needs shift over time, experimenting with and reshaping structures or systems - within reason - to fully support the cooperative’s needs and culture can support the organization’s sustainability.

Structure Flows From Need

When experimenting or designing structures and systems in your cooperative, it is essential to recall that, above all else, cooperatives exist to meet needs. This needs-based focus can be applied to structure and system design, as well. While experiencing financial difficulties, bringing its conventionally understood “operations” to a relative standstill, the Albanyan (User, Nigeria) credit and savings cooperative recognized a need to maintain communications, comradery, and education despite the operational slowdown. As a result, they adopted a weekly meeting practice during which the group undertakes education and deliberation, sometimes providing space for an elder ally to share insights and lead discussion. If and when other activities within the cooperative increase, they can adjust their systems, accordingly, using the social momentum built through continued meetings rather than having to start from scratch. Albanyan drastically adjusted how it functions in a moment of downturn in a way that ensures they can resume more intensive operations in the future, rather than simply shutting down permanently or having to start a new cooperative. A key  reminder this example provides is that cooperatives are not purely businesses trading in fiscal capital, they can and do and should meet other human needs. If Albanyan solely viewed themselves as tasked with activities directly related to savings and credit, they would not be meeting the very important fellowship and educational needs of their members still today.


Despite the preponderance of Boards of Directors and a great deal of legislation mandating them for incorporated and state regulated cooperatives, several youth cooperatives have explored and employed other systems they feel better meet their needs. Still others have decided that a Board structure does work for them, after they assessed their unique needs and culture - not just because they saw or were told a Board is best.


Genç Işi (Worker, Turkey) has come to employ a governance system, called Sociocracy, that supports all aspects of their organization’s function according to two fundamental principles - “organizational effectiveness, i.e. realizing the organization's aim and purpose effectively and efficiently;” and, “the equivalence/equality between organizational members, honoring everyone’s voice.”1 To fulfill these principles, all decision-making is consensus-based, and the organization’s structure is constituted of several power-sharing working groups and committees that are delineated according to activity and not along a governance-operations binary. More examples of cooperatives foregoing Board structures are included in the following section “General Assembly.”

Yes, and...

The origin of the Youth Cooperative Hub (MSC, South Africa) is rooted in weekly meetings at which a large group of youth workers and producers convened to discuss their shared work challenges across various industries in the area. As the cooperative began to formalize, they slowly added a Board in order to comply with legal mandates, established a quarterly General Assembly schedule (not legally mandated), and the cooperative never ceased their core weekly meeting (not legally mandated) - as it is how the group organically came to function and remains the highest expression of how the people in their cooperative best work with and relate to one another. Even if a cooperative must have a Board or if it seems prudent to do so, it should not be at the expense of other systems and mechanisms that are strong reflections of a cooperative group’s culture. 


While General Assemblies are the common denominator of cooperatives, in many sectors and cultures, they have become demonstrations of largely performative governance in which those in attendance simply “rubber-stamp” earlier decisions made by a representative body. The kinds of General Assemblies that have deteriorated in this way are often held only once or twice a year, suggesting a simple immediate response to hold the gatherings more frequently.

“Operationalize Governance”

Knowledge Worker (Worker, Denmark) was familiar with the impotent style of cooperative General Assemblies, as most of the visible cooperatives in Denmark that they had to look to when they began operations were large, wealthy user cooperatives that mimicked capitalist institutions. In order to guard against this kind of degradation and cooptation by capitalist culture, they instituted a system of quarterly strategic roundtables that are mandatory for all members to attend (i.e. an operational General Assembly). These strategy roundtables are what determine and shape the content of the annual General Assembly. It is worth noting that the few members who have been elected into administrative “staff” roles in the cooperatives do not engage in discourse during these roundtables, though they may be asked to present about or report on a specific topic. Interestingly, the annual General Assembly at which only decisions are taken based on the work done in the strategy roundtables, is not mandatory to attend like the roundtables. Given that every aspect of the strategies and plans considered at the General Assembly are developed by the entire membership over several roundtables, this style of "rubber-stamp" governance is not performative, and rather provides one last opportunity for the members to review their work before formalizing or codifying it.

“No Structure” (Worker, Greece) does not have any formal organizational structure nor do they distinguish between operations and governance in their cooperative. Instead, they hold daily General Assemblies of all present members in the morning before work begins within the enterprise. This system facilitates almost infallible transparency within the cooperative, presents opportunities for cross-training education as workers hear about issues and events in other roles, builds relationships and social cohesion, as well as sets the tone for the day. Given the frequency of these General Assemblies, they tend to run smoothly and not last very long, thereby dispelling the notion that consensus-based or all-member deliberation is necessarily slow-moving and/or ineffectual.



Social Ralationships & Consistent Communication: While (Worker, Greece) is able to conduct daily General Assemblies to maintain transparency and communication, as discussed in the previous section, this is not possible for many cooperatives that do not convene daily in a shared physical or digital space. Two such cooperatives evolved relatively similar mechanisms to maintain transparency and build trust in their organizations, as well as to facilitate general social relating and relationship building as this felt it imperative for the health of their group and work. The Comité Regional de Juventud (CRJ) (CRJ, Network, Americas) maintains a WhatsApp group that is a constant flow of formal and informal conversation, which keeps the group actively “in community” with one another. This consistent, low pressue form of communication and connection helps to sustain culture and participation momentum (similar to the weekly meeting practice of Albayan, mentioned earlier). Genç Işi (Worker, Turkey) maintains a Slack channel (a propreitary communication and work coordination app) specifically for “casual conversation” to maintain humanity behind computer screens. This kind of consistent, candid engagement ensures that important aspects of human interaction that builds trust and comradery but cannot be captured in emails or formal governance conversations takes place despite distance or digital separation. When this kind of social transparency is not maintained, it can sow distrust or create a lack of transparency in other aspects of interaction - e.g. a piece of policy is introduced with strong language and without much context, to which members react and draw conclusions about its motivation and intent because they do not have a strong social connection to that member that would, otherwise, prompt them to be curious about the person's intentions, rather than reactive and assumptive. Additionally, if the motivating event or issue has been a part of informal conversation in the cooperative (e.g. "Hey, I've been thinking about how...," such as through a Whatsapp or Slack group, a general understanding can be generated ahead of to avoid reactionary conflict and any potential disagreements or conflict can get teased out ahead of time. For cooperative enterprises that either don’t interact daily or solely interact within structured discussion spaces (e.g. project teams, committee meetings), providing consistent and candid communication channels is an essential support to transparency, as well as providing space for members to freely relate to one another in a way that shapes and sustains their cooperative’s culture.

Everyone, Every Meeting: A beguilingly simple solution to ensuring equitable information sharing and education throughout a cooperative is to have every member come to every meeting, no matter whether or not they maintain a formal role in a given group. This is most applicable to cooperatives of smaller scales, as is true of most youth cooperatives, including Master Mind (Producer, Botswana) which has instituted this practice. The cooperative reports that members more easily learn about how the cooperative functions through this every member-every meeting policy, which, in turn, strengthens their cooperative. More specifically, it is helpful in training members how certain individual roles within the cooperative function and why they are important. As a result, that passive form of education has proven to have a secondary impact as a leadership development tool. The cooperative found that because members are more familiar with the various organizational roles by observing and interacting with them regularly, they are much more likely to step up to take on leadership roles and, further, to be successful in them.

Write It Down!: A refrain that was mentioned by several interviewees across various key issues is - write everything down! This was insisted upon by Genç Işi (Worker, Turkey) in answers to questions specifically exploring “Structure and Participation,” as they find it to be especially essential to their success as a cooperative that both uses a highly decentralized working group structure and one that does not convene in the same place regularly. Given that most every meeting of the cooperative is held with only a subset of members, but everything that happens in the cooperative is of interest and relevance to all members, information is transmitted both through informal communication means, as well as written down to ensure transmission, maintain accountability, and sustain institutional memory.

Community Care

Enterprises are not people, and figuring out how to relate to your broader community as an organization can be as challenging as it is necessary. (Worker, Greece), from its very start, regularly engaged the broader community in its work and maintains an organizational worldview that incorporates all their neighbors and allies as part of their cooperative community. The cooperative took over an abandoned factory space that they could have been adapted to manufacture or process a number of different products, though determined via a community town hall with the surrounding community to manufacture ecologically sustainable cleaning supplies. Further, workers within the cooperative conduct weekly “Solidarity Check-ins” with community members and neighbors in order to ensure everyone is happy within their network of relationships and that everyone’s needs are being adequately met.


Red Root (Worker, Philippines) shared that the perception of cooperatives as ineffectual and unable to respond to threats or opportunities with relative speed is common in their country. They also have experienced this to be a reality, too, for many of the older cooperatives with which they have tried to partner. Red Root found that, specifically, the timeline each of these older cooperatives needed to make a decision on engaging with a potential project with them ultimately prohibited their participation, as application deadlines came before the cooperative's decision could be made. Learning from this, Red Root chooses to organize their workflow and leadership in a project-based fashion, which shapes how they are able to respond to potential projects or issues. When the cooperative is approached or an opportunity arises, all those who are immediately and presently engaged in a related area of work convene to make a decision using consensus, the decision-making method to which they are most accustomed (because they use it in all of the activities of the cooperative) and with which they are, following, very comfortable and quick. Interestingly, they report that their nimbleness and responsiveness has prompted clients and outsiders to say they are like a “regular corporation,” which - while wholly inaccurate - does help to dispel myths that consensus and cooperative decision-making methods are slower or more ineffectual than capitalist enterprises.