Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

Article Index

Philosophy and principles

The approach aims to deliver impactful and financially sustainable services and emphasises cooperative leadership, but recognises the role of partners for service delivery and financial support. Joint learning with partners and members is crucial, allowing for adjustment of service offerings in line with the members’ needs and improved coordination among stakeholders.


  • Cooperatives need durable partnerships for building their own service delivery capacity. 
  • External support is critical in the initial stages, with progressive member contributions in later stages. 
  • Membership-funded services correspond with the quality and impact of services. 
  • Transparency and accountability are key, from technicians to managers to funders. 
  • Joint learning through critical observation, analysis, and reflection improves services.

The first principle is specialisation. This means that cooperatives focus on the set of services they can effectively provide, leaving other services to those who can provide them more effectively. Specialisation implies that cooperatives understand members’ needs and circumstances and how they can best intervene with the resources at hand, and where others can contribute to the process by providing complementary services to members or by helping to build the cooperative’s service capacity. Cooperatives need to be aware of the dangers of trying to provide too many services at the same time and thus spreading scarce resources too thinly. 

The second principle is progressive member contributions to cost recovery. During the early years of cooperative development – when most services are likely to be sourced externally – cooperatives focus on delivering a limited range of demand-oriented services and on expanding members’ awareness of services and their related benefits and costs. Member contributions can come through direct payment for services, reductions in the price paid for deliveries to the cooperative, and proceeds from cooperative operations, such as processing. These may also offset the costs of service delivery. Cooperatives should be aware about costs and benefits of these services and engage with their members to promote awareness of the need to invest in services. 

The third principle is joint learning for improved services, involving cooperative leaders, member representatives, and external supporters. Learning requires experimentation in response to the changing business context and the livelihood context of members, as well as critical  reflections on processes and outcomes. Different service delivery and cost recovery models should be tested, along with diverse mechanisms for strengthening the cooperatives’ service delivery capacity (for example, vouchers, on-the-job learning, and cooperative– cooperative business schools). 


Training in dairy farming, facilitated through the cooperative, has improved practice in areas such as animal health, animal feeding, and birth spacing. The cooperative has also provided training in a wide range of other areas relevant to farmers, not just in areas related to its specific business (dairy farming). Training sessions were organised in subjects ranging from fruit planting to building and using fuel-efficient stoves, showing a wider focus within the cooperative on improving the general well-being of its members, and not just to improving its own business performance. 

Source: Shaw and Alldred (2015) (1)

Shaw, L., and Alldred, S. 2015. Building inclusive enterprise in Africa: Cooperative case studies. Manchester: The Cooperative College.