What is a Co-Op, Anyway?
Here's a quick lesson on what we mean when we say "Worker Owned Co-Op." Many different organizations and certifying groups have varied definitions of what constitutes a co-operative.
Our partner organization, The Swahili Coast Co-Operative, is defined by 100% worker ownership over the profits of the organization. That is to say - workers own the company profit proportional to their share of contribution over the course of the month. A worker that produces 10% of the co-op output receives 10% of the co-op profit for that period.
The Co-op functions within the market system exactly like you would expect a normal corporate entity to - it has a sales team selling its goods (in this case, Swahili Coast Design in the USA), it files taxes with the Tanzanian government, it banks as a business within Tanzania. From an external perspective, the co-op is organized just as any corporate organization within a market system.
The only defining difference is that ownership of the co-operative is not transferable. The worker owners own their shares within the co-op by virtue of their participation. Outside investors cannot purchase the shares of worker owners.
Why This Matters
Make no mistake about it: East Africa is home to some of the most vulnerable populations on the planet. For many without access to capital or education, the choice set and opportunities available tend to be far fewer than what individuals in the US and Europe face. Being part of a co-operative offers artisans the opportunity to become business owners, and have a real voice in the direction of the business.
Being organized as a co-operative is not easy. It requires the co-op members and board members to work hard towards the goal of cooperativity for mutual prosperity. But the reason we all work hard to promote the principles of fairness and cooperativity is to prove that worker owned groups can prosper with global marketing - and enjoy ownership over the trends their culture inspires.
The Co-op means women feeding their families. The Co-op means school fees paid for member's children. The Co-op means money saved for college tuition.
For our fans and customers in the US - we appreciate you and want you to celebrate the incredible traditions of design and cooperativity found with Swahili Coast. We are excited for you to join us in our mission to Live Cooperatively.