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I got to know co-operatives in the early 1980s when my blessed grandmother used to take me to the local grocery store of ESEL (Union of Co-operative Societies of Limassol) in the Apostolou Andreas area in Limassol. All these years later, the images of that small shop are now blurred. I don’t remember much, but the smells and the warmth of that familiar environment stayed with me strongly. That indistinct smell of the traditional grocery store, the familiarity of the people with each other and the feeling that this grocery store is our grocery store. My grandmother would shop while chatting with her neighbours and at the end at the checkout, after paying, she would collect her corresponding stamps.

ESEL, like the cooperative movement in Cyprus in general, has for some time now ceased to exist as we knew it. The reasons are many and varied. The increased competition, the model itself that has companies belonging to everyone and to no one creating conditions of inefficient management and sometimes exploitation, the fact that people ceased to have a real benefit from cooperative companies thus erasing the comparative advantage they previously had, but also the bad political decisions that led to its final closure.

But what is the cooperative movement? Is it the cooperative model that was implemented over the last decades or is it the idea, vision and goals set by its pioneers? Is it the legal framework that covers these companies with its weaknesses and problems, or is it the values of equality, justice, solidarity and the notion of “all for one and one for all” advocated by the movement? Obviously, the second.

As long as there are people who believe in these values and these ideals, the cooperative movement remains alive. Not only alive but more needed than ever. The social and environmental problems that humanity faces today remind us that these values should always have been our guide and that today we need a change of course. Today’s conditions remind us that it is necessary to build stronger social bonds, to redefine what social welfare means and to move away from the soul-destroying materialism and economic logic that destroys our natural environment, the home of all living beings. This need is transmuted into action throughout the world since an increasing number of initiatives are continuously undertaken with the aim of finding alternative solutions towards a more sustainable future.

Cooperatives revisited

Keeping in mind the ideals and goals of the cooperative movement, through our initiative in Limassol and the establishment of the first collective ownership company (COCO Collective Ownership Company Limassol Ltd), we are trying to re-create the conditions for cooperation, solidarity and collective development. We have exactly the same vision and goals as the cooperative movement. We remain true to the idea that societies are not only self-interest and competition but also collective vision, cooperation and love. The only thing we’ve changed is the model. Understanding the weaknesses of the classic cooperative model and realizing the today’s conditions and realities, we aimed for the new approach to be free from the following weaknesses embedded into the classic cooperative model:

  1. The need of collaboration of a large number of people in order to create cooperative companies
  2. The degradation of personal initiative and creativity at the altar of collective effort
  3. The difficulty in raising funds (either initially or during the course of the business activity)
  4. The fact that cooperative companies belong to all members equally and thus no one has a special interest in maintaining the competitiveness of the organization, creating conditions of non-alignment of interest between members and managements, leading to mismanagement and lack of real control
  5. The inability of the model to influence other companies to become cooperative companies, as well.

The last weakness is vital as the vision of the cooperative movement is not to create 3 grocery stores and 2 cooperative banks, but to imbue free markets and all sectors of the economy with the spirit of collectivity and cooperation. We believe it is time to revisit the essence of the cooperative movement. Through our initiative we want to rebuild the ideals of its pioneers and give those who believe in them the opportunity to contribute in a simple way. If you want to know more and how you can become part of the effort, read the content here on our website or call us at 77774080.

George Ioulianos