This July 1st the cooperative movement celebrates the International Day of Cooperatives. This year’s theme is “Cooperatives: partners for accelerated sustainable development” and its celebration will mark the 101st anniversary of the resolution of the Executive Committee of the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) to adopt in 1923 a flag including the seven colours of the rainbow, as a symbol of unity in diversity…

The earliest extant records of a cooperative come from Fenwick (Scotland). In 1761 it was the start of the Fenwick Weavers’ Society.

As early as the mid-19th century, in 1844, a group of 28 craftsmen working in the cotton mills of Rochdale in the north of England established the first modern cooperative enterprise, the Rochdale Pioneers’ Equitable Society, also known as the Rochdale Pioneers. They are considered to be the forerunners of modern cooperative societies and the founders of the cooperative movement.

According to the International Cooperative Alliance website, the weavers in the cotton mills at the time had miserable working conditions and low wages, which meant they could not afford the high prices of food and household goods. So, they decided to pool their meagre resources and work together, in order to gain access to basic consumer goods at a lower price. At first, there were only four products for sale: flour, oats, sugar and butter.

The Pioneers decided that it was time for consumers to be treated honestly, transparently, and with respect, that they should be able to share in the profits according to their contribution, and should have the democratic right to take part in business decisions. Every customer in the shop became a member of the cooperative so that each of them had a real stake in the business.

Today, according to the ICA, 12% of the world’s population is a member of a cooperative. As enterprises based on values rather than capital income, there are three million cooperatives in the world, providing employment for some 280 million people on an equitable basis.

Today’s pioneers: a global network of technology cooperatives

In a world in which digitalisation permeates all fields of human activity, technology production cooperatives have formed a global network to strengthen themselves and demonstrate the advantages of the cooperative model in economic, political, and human terms.

These are companies dedicated to providing IT solutions and services to other organisations, companies, or individuals, increasingly covering the ever-widening range of development needs.

Under the evocative name of Patio, the collectives involved define themselves as “a network of technology cooperatives from around the world, working together in solidarity to democratise the technology sector”.

Working together allows them to develop interdisciplinary and collaborative work in the development of projects on an international scale.

The network is currently made up of 68 cooperatives in 19 countries, in which 800 cooperative members work. The offer currently covers 37 digital services, including full stack development, i.e., visual and logical web development, project management, mobile technology, the Internet of Things, blockchain, machine learning, and consultancy and training processes.

Central to the network’s philosophy is the intention to scale up worker ownership in the area of technology production, in order to have a more democratic society.

Among the manifest benefits of this action are having a supportive community and a supportive environment in the daily work environment and being able to share knowledge and innovations for mutual growth.

Access to different specialties in a spirit of convergence and collaboration and access to joint projects transcending local frameworks represent a great opportunity for the associated enterprises.

Undoubtedly, this associative approach towards a humanist economic model is a living example to be strengthened and replicated.