A cooperative is an autonomous association of people united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise. Cooperatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. Although the reliability of figures is poor, cooperatives appear to operate on a significant scale in developing countries: studies have shown that over seven per cent of the African population are affiliated to primary cooperatives, and this number is increasing.
Cooperatives are said to have wide-reaching, direct and indirect impacts on socio-economic development. Nevertheless, cooperatives face real challenges in the form of over-control and regulation by government, limited access to credit, inability to scale up their activities, and inability to penetrate markets. Moreover, there are enduring questions surrounding the feasibility of cooperatives pursuing socio-economic goals, and whether or not they are truly able to serve poor people. In many countries, cooperatives have struggled to gain independence from state control.