What is a co-op?

A co-operative is an organization owned by its members that share similar economic, cultural and/or social needs. Each member has the right to vote, giving them democratic power within the organization. Moreover, one of the main goals of a co-operative is to create a business that gives back to the community in which it operates. 

Co-ops differ from other business models because revenue is determined by a Board of Directors as well as its members. This model can also be adapted to different types of organizations such as non or for profits. 

The co-operative organization’s priorities are decided in order to fulfill its membership needs in a productive, self-sufficient, and socially responsible way. The co-op business model promotes democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity through the way they operate and live up in their day-to-day to the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) co-op principles and the co-op values

Different types of co-operatives


The co-operative provides products or services to its members. Sectors: manufacturing, high technology, etc.


The members regroup their resources to provide goods and services. Sectors: agri-food, self-employed workers, consultant services, etc.


The employees are the owners of the co-op. Sectors: forestry, leisure, retail, tourism, etc.


The members are a group of consumers, employees and even, sometimes, producers that share a common goal. Sectors: home care services, recreation and tourism, local development, etc.


They allow the members (its workers) and the auxiliary members to be, through it, collective shareholders of this company. Sectors: wood and mineral processing, business services, new technologies, etc.


New Generation Co-operatives address capital, marketing, and other challenges of value-added processing by spreading capital contributions and risk among multiple members. New Generation Co-operatives typically have closed membership and sell stock in the co-operative that creates transferable delivery rights for members. Sectors: agricultural


These are co-operatives whose main objective is to carry out activities and provide services that are primarily intended for community members and the general well-being of the community. Operating on a not-for-profit basis, these co-operatives can obtain charitable status. Sectors: health, social, educational or other community services.

Co-operative sectors

Co-operatives play an important role in the following sectors of activity:






Public services


Natural resources



Wholesale and retail

Types of co-operatives and mutuals in Canada

What is a mutual?

The term “mutual” is almost always – but not exclusively – used to describe insurance companies in Canada. In a mutual insurance company, the policyholder represents both the insured party and a participant in the company – as in the case of a co-operative.

Other types of insurance companies may be owned by outside investors who risk their capital and reap the profits. Mutuals will return profits by reducing the cost of policies, allowing the market to remain competitive, or through investments such as improving services or supporting the community, as members choose.

What is a federation?

A federation is a cooperative whose members are also cooperatives. The objective of the federation is to encourage cooperation between its members, to represent them and to provide them with resources to support their activities.