Co-ops call for the inclusion of co-op models in European business education

Young entrepreneurs overlook co-operatives due to a lack of awareness, warns sector body Co-operatives Europe

Sector apex Cooperatives Europe has called for co-operative business models to be included in educational initiatives.

In a call for action launched ahead of this year’s European elections, Cooperatives Europe warns that educational systems often overlook the diversity of business models, including the co-operative model. This, it argues, leads to young entrepreneurs not considering the model when setting businesses up. 

“Recognising these models would enable younger generations to discover business ideas based on values that simultaneously address economic and social needs,” it says.

The neglect of the co-op model in business education is a longstanding complaint from the movement around the world: in recent years there have been calls from Australia and the UK and elsewhere for the sector to be given more attention.

And Europe’s co-op economy – with more than 160,000 enterprises owned by 123 million individual members, employing 5.4 million people – warrants more classroom time, says Cooperatives Europe. But at the moment, education and management training tends to spotlight the shareholder company model, “neglecting the unique identity and value of the co-operative business model”. Its research indicates that young entrepreneurs frequently overlook co-operatives, primarily due to a lack of awareness. 

“Co-operative enterprises perfectly fit with the EU strategy calling for a sustainable economy, putting people first with a sustained fight against exclusion and often supporting a transition to a greener economy,” adds the call. “Emphasising these models could significantly contribute to the overarching goal of EU education policy, to enhance creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship.”

To that end, Cooperatives Europe wants the European Commission to implement specific mechanisms that may impact national policies, such as introducing primary school children and young people to co-operatives and teaching them about their values and principles in ways that resonate with their stages of development. 

“This approach aligns with and supports the implementation of the Council’s recommendations on promoting common values and inclusive education,” adds the call.

Co-ops should feature in higher education curricula, says the apex, adding that different EU initiatives should “encompass the issue of co-operatives to reinforce the objective for an open and inclusive higher education system”.

Possible measures include partnerships between European higher education institutions to foster a collaborative learning environment; fostering the knowledge about various business models in the education and innovation strategy should reinforce the knowledge about co-operatives; and including a specific focus on cooperative entrepreneurship in the Erasmus+ Programme.

“To ensure harmonised teaching of the co-operative,” adds Cooperatives Europe, “the European Commission should encourage member states to include education on co-operatives at all levels of the educational system and to encourage and promote collaboration between universities, higher education institutions and the European co-operative movement, in line with the International Labour Organization’s Recommendation for the Promotion of Cooperatives which was voted on by all EU member states.”