Worker Owned Cooperatives

Empowering Communities Through Education (ECTE) aims to establish a cooperative ecosystem in Chennai, India, as a model for other regions. ECTE has identified five key pillars crucial for success: academic support for research and education, collaboration with labor and community organizations, advocacy for cooperative representation, backing from sympathetic individuals and organizations for financial sustainability, and a comprehensive media campaign to redefine cooperatives' public perception and encourage widespread adoption. ECTE is committed to uniting these essential pillars to fulfill its vision of fostering an ecosystem that promotes the growth of cooperatives in Chennai, India.


The cooperative movement in India has deep roots in the country's independence movement, originally empowering individuals to form collectives in a developing economy. This movement, emphasizing autonomy and development, offered an inclusive economic alternative. However, as regulatory support increased for companies and corporate models, cooperatives saw little legal change, leading to sluggish growth and outdated policies, particularly affecting areas beyond the rural credit economy. ECTE aims to change this narrative and leverage the collective power and resources of cooperative ecosystems in enhancing economic, social, and environmental outcomes in Chennai.

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In 2019, Government of India created a new Union Ministry of Cooperation to provide a separate administrative, legal and policy framework for strengthening the cooperative movement in country. In order to strengthen and facilitate ease of doing business for cooperatives in various sectors and deepening its reach to the grassroots, the Ministry of Cooperation since its formation in July 2021 has taken various initiatives. This presents a host of opportunities for worker-owned cooperatives in new and emerging sectors like the gig-platform economy.
A cooperative ecosystem in a Chennai offers several advantages, contributing to both economic and social development: 

How ?

ECTE is working with ICA Domus Trust (IDT) -- part of the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) Asia and Pacific (ICA-AP) -- to conduct a research study on the potentials of establishing a cooperatives ecosystem in Chennai. This study seeks to thoroughly investigate various aspects, including the historical background of cooperatives in India, an examination of thriving cooperative ecosystems in different global locations, and an analysis of the existing versus necessary institutions needed to establish a robust cooperative ecosystem in Chennai, among other topics.

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The study aims to explore the broader implications of collectivization in Chennai, focusing particularly on worker-owned cooperatives within the city's unique socio-economic landscape. It intends to scrutinize the political and legal frameworks, assessing how they interact with and impact the city's cooperative ventures. Furthermore, the research seeks to identify necessary infrastructural enhancements, providing policymakers with actionable insights to comprehend and support the potential of worker-owned cooperatives more fully.

This inquiry positions cooperativism within Chennai's policy arena, advocating for it as a viable component of the local economy and a natural extension of the city's cooperative heritage. It proposes regulatory and policy reforms to foster a conducive environment for worker-owned cooperatives. The research will pursue this aim by addressing three critical questions:

To answer these questions, the study will present case studies of local cooperatives, examining their interactions with existing laws and policies, and draw comparisons with international cooperative regulations to inform and shape policy recommendations in Chennai.

Who ?

ECTE is working with Professor C. Pitchai (Gandigram Rural Institute), and collaborators from ICA-AP -- Mr. Mohit Dave and Mr. Balu Iyer -- to co-design a roadmap for individuals and organizations involved in the larger cooperative movement. Dr. Pitchai and his collaborators will undertake a research study on behalf of ECTE titled “Mapping the Worker-Owned Cooperative Economy in Chennai”.