Discussion paper

Discussion paper: Co-operatives and Mutuals as social enterprises

Cooperatives Social enterprise Social impact Australia

Co-operatives and mutuals are member-owned enterprises that exist to meet the social, economic and cultural needs and aspirations of their members and communities. They are an important part of the Australian social economy, ranging from worker-owned disability employment co-ops with approximately 30 members like Nundah Community Enterprises Co-operative to Australia’s largest member-owned organisations including credit unions, mutual insurers and mobility mutuals.

This paper discusses how co-operatives and mutuals sit alongside contemporary definitions and accreditation processes for social enterprise and the alignment between the objectives of social enterprise policymakers and the purpose of co-operative and mutual enterprises. The case study section, provided as an appendix, includes important examples of co-operative social enterprises owned by workers, consumers, producers and communities.


  1. Co-operatives and mutuals should generally be considered social enterprises
  2. Policymakers should take care to include co-operatives and mutuals when developing social enterprise and social procurement policies
  3. The pre-existing registration process for co-operatives incorporated under Co-operatives National Law, and the definition of a mutual for companies incorporated under the Corporations Act, should be used by policymakers to streamline co-operative and mutual eligibility in relation to social enterprise and social procurement policies.
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