Co-operative Enterprise Research Program


Sustainable Co-operative Enterprise Research Study

Despite their significance there is relatively little research available on drivers of the Co-operative business model and what makes it both unique and competitive. This study addresses these issues and assists Co-operatives WA to prepare for the introduction of new State legislation and provide research of benefit to Co-operatives at the national level. Funded under an Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Grant between the University of Western Australia (UWA), Co-operatives WA, Co-operative Bulk Handling and the Capricorn Society, the project will address five interrelated research questions:
  1. What causes a co-operative to abandon its principles, values and business mode and transform into an investor-owned enterprise?
    1. With specific attention given to the roles played by:
      1. Co-operative Boards
      2. Members of the Co-operative
      3. The structure, activity and capitalisation of the Co-operative
  1. How does a Co-operative measure and communicate the true value of membership?
    1. With specific focus on:
      1. What is the Co-operative’s role in capturing value in an integrated or vertical value chain?
      2. What is the most appropriate means of communicating value to these stakeholders?
      3. What are the causes of free-riding by members and non-members and
      4. How can value recognition and reporting be used to minimise free-riding?
  1. Are there best practice examples of Co-operative Boards that provide lessons for future business models?
    1. With specific attention to:
      1. The constitution and composition of Co-operative Boards including their constitution and articles of association;
      2. The design and characteristics of supply chain relationships within the Co-operative, and
      3. The development of trust within the Co-operative between members and between the Co-operative and its members.
  1. How does a Co-operative successfully participate in financial markets without compromising its principles, values and business model?
    1. With specific attention to:
      1. What characteristics of the Co-operative business model constrain access to external funding, particularly access to risk capital?
      2. How can Co-operative Capital Units (CCU) find and retain favour in capital markets?
      3. What are the taxation implications for issuers and investors in relation to CCUs?
      4. How will CCU be dealt with under the Australian Accounting Standards?
  1. What are the alternatives to the "one-member-one-vote" principle normally associated with Co-operatives and how do these alternatives strengthen or weaken a Co-operative's ability to operate in a sustainable and competitive way over time? 
    1. With specific attention to whether this:
      1. Risks control vesting with minor or less active members;
      2. Results in undesired takeovers;
      3. Makes it difficult to raise capital from members;
      4. Leads to decisions that are not in the interests of the transacting shareholders;
      5. Significantly disadvantages those that are the major users of the co-operative; and
      6. Stifles change.

Global Research Network

A feature of this co-operative studies research program was the formation of an international network of around 40 researchers who are collaborating on the development of a book to be titled "Sustainable Co-operative Enterprise: Case Studies of Organisational Resilience in the Co-operative Business Model". This book was published by Edward Elgar Publishing in 2014. 


A number of publications were generated from this research study and more are under development. Two edited books were published during the life of the project.  

Co-operatives in the Fourth Sector: The Role of Member-Owned Businesses in the Global Economy

Editors: Tim Mazzarol and Elena Mamouni Limnios (2012) 
Tilde Publishing, Melbourne ISBN: 978-0-7346-1170-3 
Co-operatives in the Fourth Sector: The Role of Member-Owned Businesses in the Global Economy contributes to the development of a better understanding of co-operative and mutual business, and how the member-focused nature of co-operatives is the fundamental driver of their success. Part I of this book contains four chapters that deal with the governance and financing of co-operatives. Part II includes two international cases that explore the significance of delivering member value to ensure co-operative sustainability. Part III, then, contains three chapters that examine the potential contribution of co-operatives in developing economies. Drawn from the research of a cross-section of international scholars, this work was a collaborative project between The University of Western Australia and Co-operatives WA.

Research Handbook on Sustainable Co-operative Enterprise

Editors: Tim Mazzarol, Sophie Reboud, Elena Mamouni Limnios and Delwyn Clark

Edward Elgar Publishing, ISBN: 978-0-85793-777-3

Co-operatives are found in all industry sectors and almost all countries around the world. However, despite their significant economic and social contributions, the academic literature has largely ignored these important businesses. This book is a detailed examination of the co-operative enterprise business model and the factors that help to enhance its sustainability and resilience, as well as those forces that lead to its destruction. The authors synthesize theories of business model design and strategic and marketing management to examine the forces that sustain and enhance co-operative enterprise. Organised into six themes and focussed on five key research questions, the chapters explore case studies from around the world and across a wide range of industries and aim to stimulate debate. This comprehensive work expands upon existing research whilst introducing new concepts, and will appeal to both academics and practitioners. It will also interest managers of co-operative enterprises and those who seek to better understand this unique type of business.

For more information on publications go to CERU publications >>>
Research Team: 
Tim Mazzarol
Elena Mamouni Limnios
John Watson
Geoff Soutar
Joanne Sneddon
Kadambot Siddique