Our history

In 1844 the Rochdale Pioneers founded the modern cooperative movement in Lancashire, England, to provide an affordable alternative to poor-quality and adulterated food and provisions, using any surplus to benefit the community. Since then, the cooperative movement has flourished, extending across the globe and encompassing all sectors of economy. 

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Establishing the International Cooperative Alliance

The International Cooperative Alliance was founded in London, England on 19 August 1895 during the 1st Cooperative Congress. In attendance were delegates from cooperatives from Argentina, Australia, Belgium, England, Denmark, France, Germany, Holland, India, Italy, Switzerland, Serbia, and the USA.
Representatives established the International Cooperative Alliance's aims to provide information, define and defend the Cooperative Principles and develop international trade. It was one of the only international organisations to survive both World War I and World War II.
Overcoming all the political differences between its members was difficult, but the ICA survived by staying committed to peace, democracy, and by remaining politically neutral.
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The Rochdale Pioneers

The earliest record of a cooperative comes from Fenwick, Scotland where, in March 14, 1761, in a barely furnished cottage local weavers manhandled a sack of oatmeal into John Walker's whitewashed front room and began selling the contents at a discount, forming the Fenwick Weavers' Society. In 1844 a group of 28 artisans working in the cotton mills in the town of Rochdale, in the north of England established the first modern cooperative business, the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society, also known as the Rochdale Pioneers. They are regarded as the prototype of the modern cooperative society and founders of the cooperative movement.
The weavers in these cotton mills in Rochdale faced miserable working conditions and low wages, and they could not afford the high prices of food and household goods. They decided that by pooling their scarce resources and working together they could access basic goods at a lower price. Initially, there were only four items for sale: flour, oatmeal, sugar, and butter.
The Pioneers decided it was time shoppers were treated with honesty, openness, and respect, that they should be able to share in the profits that their custom contributed to and that they should have a democratic right to have a say in the business. Every customer of the shop became a member and so had a true stake in the business. At first, the cooperative was open for only two nights a week, but within three months, the business had grown so much that it was open five days a week.

An independently formulated cooperative model developed in Germany by Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen and Franz Hermann Schultz-Delitsch. Raiffeisen and Schultz-Delitsch originally formed credit unions in 1862. Since then the model has grown into other sectors and inspired the growth of financial cooperatives across the world.

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Celebrating 125 years: evolving to meet changing needs

The achievement in forming the ICA 125 years ago and the continued strength of the cooperative model is a testament of its relevance and contribution & around the world. New forms and kinds of cooperatives are being invented all the time. Social cooperatives, a noteworthy and impactful experiment in itself, were invented in Italy in the late 1970s, and are now extending all over the world. We have recently seen the emergence of freelancers’ cooperatives, community cooperatives, and different types of multi-stakeholder cooperatives around innovative cooperative entrepreneurial models. It is clear that new forms of cooperatives will continue to emerge as the socio-economic needs of human beings evolve and common aspirations manifest into a collective will to build a better world.Today, the ICA is now represents 313 member organisations in 110 countries—more than at any time in these 125 years. 

Click here to learn more about what lies ahead!


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Milestones in ICA's journey