Social Innovation

Do companies need bosses? Cooperatives and the social economy explained

Published · Updated

People before profits ... This video from TED Education and the World Economic Forum delves into the world of cooperatives. Image: TED Ed

Kate Whiting
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
Anna Bruce-Lockhart
Editorial Lead, World Economic Forum
  • Cooperatives employ 280 million people globally - that’s 1 in 10 people working today.
  • Studies have shown they are more likely to succeed and have happier workers than other companies.
  • They are part of the wider ‘social economy’ that values democratic governance and people over profit.
  • This animated video explainer by TED Education and the World Economic Forum explores what it means to be in a coop - and weighs up the pros and cons.

Imagine not having a hierarchy at work that leads up to the CEO. In 3 million companies around the world, this is the case.

They are called cooperatives - or coops for short - and have a totally different organizational structure from traditional companies.

Coops employ 280 million people globally - or 1 in 10 people working today, according to the International Cooperative Alliance, and studies have shown they are more likely to succeed and have happier workers than other companies.

They are part of the wider ‘social economy’, which includes foundations, associations and social enterprises in sectors from education to agriculture, all driven by the values of people over profit and democratic governance.

What is the social economy?

If you’re now wondering what it would be like to work in the social economy, start by watching this video explainer, created by TEDEd in collaboration with the World Economic Forum. It outlines three crucial things to know about coops, from being jointly owned by their members to exactly how decisions are made when there’s no CEO.


Deeper dive into the social economy

For more information on cooperatives and what it means to be part of the social economy, dive into the articles, videos and podcasts available on the World Economic Forum's platform. You can also find a long list of animated videos on the world of work and jobs on TEDEd's YouTube.

In May, the Forum published this report - Unlocking the Social Economy: Towards an Inclusive and Resilient Society - which looks at the barriers faced by those in the social economy, from visibility to regulation, and how concrete policy can help unlock its potential.

This article, based around the report, explains how the social economy comes into its own in times of crisis, including during the 2008 financial crisis, when employment grew by 12-20% compared to sharp job losses in the private and public sectors.


What leaders can do

At the Davos Agenda in 2021, a panel of social entrepreneurs delved into how investment and policy can stimulate inclusive and sustainable growth through the social economy.


Four experts, including the UN Development Programme’s Director of Sustainable Finance Hub, Marcos Neto, discuss the roots of the Global Alliance for Social Entrepreneurship in this opinion piece.

They say strengthening corporate and public sector engagement in the social enterprise ecosystem can reshape global progress towards the UN’s SDGs.


What is the Global Alliance for Social Entrepreneurship?

Economics Explained

Economics has had a huge impact on the world we live in - and understanding the key factors at play in these massive, interconnected systems can give us insight into how to make them better, stabler and more equitable.

To find out more, dig into a new series of quick and compelling explainers from TED-Ed and World Economic Forum at A great many articles, videos and podcasts to answer all your economic questions are waiting for you at

Have you read?
What is the social economy?Deeper dive into the social economyWhat leaders can do Economics Explained

About Us



Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum