Youth Realities & Responses

cooperative culture handstyle









Service (Education & Communications)



Knowledge Worker


Service (Technical Assistance)



La Ventanilla


Service (Ecological Preservation & Tourism)



Master Minds Producer Cooperative





Comité Regional de Juventud (CRJ)





Red Root Cooperative


Service (Multimedia Design & Production)




Manufacturing (Cleaning Products)




Understanding a cooperative and one’s role within it as something bigger than a “business” or “job” dramatically transforms one’s mindset — and thus, the culture of the cooperative. (Worker, Greece) upholds the orientation that the cooperative “is your way of living, not just a job. You take part in it and it in you.” Others interviewed expressed this “more than a business or job” orientation in how they chose to structure and manage participation in their cooperatives. Knowledge Worker (Worker, Denmark) considers their cooperative to be a platform that people can use when and how they would like to, rather than as a business to which each worker is required to report everyday at a given time. To facilitate this, Knowledge Worker members identify which projects they would like to work on, and don’t come in to “work” when they are not actively participating in activities of the cooperative. Red Root (Worker, Philippines) uses a similar project-based work model that rejects conventional task distribution models by empowering people to participate as their needs and interests call them to do so, and in whatever graduated capacity makes sense for them at the time. If there is not sufficient interest in a project, that shows the cooperative that the work is either outside the scope or capacity of the cooperative. While both of these “work when you want to” models run counter to conventional business practices, both cooperatives have achieved financial and organizational sustainability with their methods.

Raison d’être

Ventanilla (Worker, Mexico) was founded when a generational split occurred in a cooperative that worked to maintain a watershed ecosystem and provide tourism and educational programs within and about the watershed. The cooperative roughly split between generations, when a group of youth members determined that the elder-led decision-making was prioritizing profit at the expense of the initial goals of their cooperative initiative. Essentially, the elder contingent of the membership had adopted a conventional business and profit-seeking framework that was in conflict with efforts to repair and sustain the environment in which the members of the cooperative lived. Specifically, the elder-led cooperative chose to create a zoo housing several exotic animals, which was one especially egregious aspect of a broader strategy to attract business from tourism brokers that brought in large groups from area resorts. The resort industry with which the brokers work are emblematic of exploitative and unsustainable tourism, as the resorts are mostly foreign owned walled fortresses that consume a huge amount of local resources and aggressively mediate the interactions of their guests with local residents, thereby limiting the potential financial benefit the community can gain from tourism. The youth found the zoo and the middleman strategy, in lieu of other forms of outreach or marketing, to be unethical and counter to the human, animal, and natural community -building and -restoring work with which they had tasked themselves. After starting a new cooperative without the older generation members, the youth undertook outreach to educational institutions throughout the world, which attracted visitors and supporters that were interested in Ventanilla and its community because of the important work they were doing, rather than customers seeking passive entertainment. Both cooperatives still exist side-by-side in the community today, though the youth cooperative has been more successful in the cooperatives’ initial purpose of planting and nurturing the mangroves and animal life in the watershed. 

PROFESSIONALISM (Worker, Greece) explicitly states that they reject any notion of professionalism in their cooperative, and ask that each person participate however they are most comfortable. Specifically, during general assemblies, they ask people to talk about what is going on in their lives, how they are feeling, and any fears they are having generally or about anything happening in the cooperative. has “normalized” human behavior and emotions in their workplace, rather than deeming parts of the human experience unprofessional and relegating it to the so-called personal lives of members. Red Root (Worker, Philippines) also rejected the relegation of emotions and mental health to outside the workplace, and educated themselves on mental health, mental illnesses, and personality types in order to support themselves in working with each other. They report that understanding things like depression and how it can manifest for different people supports them in having reasonable expectations of one another, receiving the behavior of others with compassion rather than judgment, and – as a result – managing their cooperative and shared work more successfully. With regard to the calls of professionalism to avoid any discord or disagreement, the CRJ (Youth Network, Americas) openly acknowledges that they have active ideological divisions within their organization. Instead of discouraging discourse in order to avoid potential conflicts, the group openly discusses the diversity of interpretations of cooperativism and other value systems with regularity. CRJ does not view conflict as unprofessional, but rather as a regular aspect of relating to and working with others. 


Part of what likely supports the CRJ (Youth Network, Americas) in having challenging ideological discussions is its overall philosophy of cooperation voiced by its President that “you can’t just be a cooperativist at work.” In every conversation and interpersonal interaction, maintaining a cooperative mindset is absolutely essential to working together across ideological and other differences. In this way, the cooperators see and honor the complexity of one another, which prohibits them from severing an entire relationship over one instance of discord or disagreement. Similarly, following the founding of Ventanilla (Worker, Mexico) after an ideological division within an intergenerational cooperative, family members and friends were split between the two cooperatives. Despite the ideological differences that persisted, familial relationships and friendships across the cooperatives remained strong - which is a testament to the cooperativism practiced by Ventanilla’s members within all aspects of their life - and not just “at work.”

Teambuilding Activities

Master Minds (Producer, Botswana), upon experiencing issues with uncooperative members, evolved member programming to support people in developing more cooperative personalities. By conducting team building activities on a regular basis, the cooperative literally practices relating to one another as people beyond the context of the day-to-day function of their cooperative. Through that form of cooperating with one another beyond “work,” they report they have come to better understand each other’s attitudes and personalities, which has improved the functioning of their cooperative.