Organization as an [incubating] member of a worker co-operative (a "hack" of co-op conversion process)

I had an interesting question from a friend with a small (2-person) web development agency. They are interested to convert, but trying to learn more.

They asked (mostly in naivety) whether an organization (their current for-profit) could join a [worker] co-operative.

It’s very abnormal, but got me thinking: Might this be a neat way to break the “co-op conversion” process into a multi-step process of transitioning a for-profit to a worker co-operative?

The thought is that this would allow the company to have a single vote shared, and they’d get to work together as voting partners collectively, and then the worker co-op incubating them could help them transition into a full worker co-op if the “get-to-know-how-coops-work period” made them feel positively about the idea. And then there’d be two co-ops split out (kinda like cellular division) that would have a strong and established working/personal relationships, but separate legal structures :slight_smile:

Anyone heard of anything like this before? Can anyone think of considerations, legal or otherwise, that might make this a good or bad idea?


That’s exactly how Co-op Culture works. We are a co-op consortium (although we call ourselves a worker co-op too). Our 4 co-op development workers are represented in the membership as two individuals and one company (of two different individuals).

It would just require a tweak of the governing document. Feel free to put them in touch if they need any help.

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This seems to me analogous to a blended employee/self employed worker coop where one or more of the self-employed members works through a service company (i.e. it’s a corporate member with a nominated representative). The issue is, if two of the self-employed members work through the same service company, how would that work in terms of governance? @aaron raised the same issue with me recently. The ‘cutting the Gordian knot’ route on this would seem to be simply registering each of the two as self-employed members of the Coop, and the agency billing the coop for their services on their behalf. It’s really a matter of writing an appropriate membership policy, and that being reflected in the governing document - at least this would work in the UK where the legalities around worker coops aren’t prescriptive. As far as I’m concerned, if the main purpose of the coop is decent work and the main relationship bvetween members is as fellow workers, then it’s a worker coop, regardless of employment status.

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This is so so SO helpful @coopsmark and @Sion! Even just to understand that the premise is not totally off-roading in terms of prior art :slight_smile:

@coopsmark, might you feel comfortable sharing Co-op Culture’s governing documents with me? The context might help my fellow co-operators understand (and entertain consideration of) this model of working with a sister for-profit devshop.

If you can share, it would be helpful to see a call-out to the modifications that suit this purpose. We are in Canada rather than UK, and so we might need to rethink it here.

I’m also open to a different order of operations (e.g., a call first), if you feel that the governing doc isn’t helpful as a first step!

Interesting… thanks @Sion! To clarify: You’re proposing that the for-profit org be an organizational member of the “parent” co-op, but also each owning partner of the for-profit be a legal voting member-owner individual of the “parent” co-op?

I suppose I was thinking that, the temporary nature of the arrangement might make another option viable, which I’ll explain below. But first: By “temporary nature”, I mean that I was imagining this organizational membership could be capped at one year (?), after which the for-profit must have undergone a true co-op conversion and departure into its own legal co-op entity.

I was imagining the for-profit be the only member (with one vote and nominated voting rep) in the parent co-op, and that each owning partner of that for-profit are more like non-member employees. e.g., they are invited into all spaces and meetings like a member. but as owners of member-organization, they instead share one vote. (Admittedly some undefined fuzziness arises for future non-owner employees/contractors of their for-profit, and perhaps this is the grey territory you were saying needs thought?) In day-to-day practice, this distinction of non-voting participants wouldn’t matter too much, as we don’t really vote, but instead try to integrate all concerns voiced. I wouldn’t see this dynamic changing if 2 participants shared one vote technically.

Hopefully that’s clear! Curious if I’m reading you correctly :slight_smile:

Here are our articles:Co-op Culture Articles (Jan 2017).pdf (81.7 KB)

What Sion describes is how we work - 3 members, one of which is a company with two members - 4 people in total. We make decisions by consent between the 4 of us, but if we ever needed a vote, such as when we amended our articles in 2017, then it’s a vote of the two individual members + one representative of the company.


In other words, you can include non-member individuals in decision-making circles, sociocracy-style (as Outlandish do), but reserve decisions requiring a vote for members only (natural persons and incorporated bodies with a single nominated representative).

If the incorporated member is interested in becoming a not-for-profit or a coop itself, in time; or transferring its engagements to the coop; well that’s another thing!


Thanks so much all! I’ve unfortunately learned that Ontario Co-operative law only allows “natural persons” to be a member of the recognized legal co-op structure. But we can still learn from these examples you gave.

I’ll also forward this thread to my local association, that’s in the process of lobbying for upcoming changes in legislation.

Thanks a ton! And I appreciate any future insight or thoughts about this model of including orgs (even for-profit one), so please don’t consider this thread “resolved”. I’ll keep this updated if/when our situation moves forward in some way :slight_smile:

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You may want to have a look at how Visa is set up.

You may not know this but Visa is an international co-operative.

The members of Visa are companies using different legal structures according to the legislation for each of their respective hime countries.

As Visa operates in Canada, there may be some useful information there. :smiley:

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Thanks! I looked into it, but seems from the Wikipedia article that there are some unfortunate caveats:

  • It was only Visa Europe that was the co-operative.
  • Visa Europe gained independence from Visa Inc. in 2007, formed that neat-o co-operative, but was reabsorbed in a 2016 acquisition :frowning:

But I’m glad to know it was a thing! Filed for later :wink:

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Thank you.

I hadn’t seen those developments.

Still, it does mean that the template for this exists. :smiley:

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