Significance of scientific issues

Cooperatives as a model for doing business have existed since the dawn of mankind, and modern cooperatives for nearly 200 years. Their roots are in Western Europe, from where they spread globally in different areas of economic, social and cultural life. In the diversity of business models, cooperatives are organizations actively involved in solving economic, social, cultural, national and local problems (unemployment, inequality, educational mobility, innovation, etc.). They create value for their members and other stakeholders, support the growth of the economy and represent the interests of a significant part of the world’s population. They are considered a major actor in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development of the United Nations and are present in all areas aimed at global development for the period 2016-2030. 

The United Nations declared 2012 the Year of Cooperatives worldwide and the EC adopted a Social Enterprise Act treating cooperatives as such. The global cooperative has a membership of over 1 billion and over 100 million employees. Cooperatives operate globally across all economic sectors and the 300 largest cooperatives alone have a combined turnover of over $2.2 billion. 

The modern cooperative movement/system and modern cooperative – since their emergence have been continuously under the spotlight in individual regions and across the world. The reason for this global interest is their specificity as a social business model. This stems from the “dual nature” of the cooperative to develop simultaneously both as business and social organization (Draheim 1952). This is a challenge and a prerequisite for more and more people to perceive this phenomenon as an alternative to the investor (corporate) business model.

In Bulgaria, the emergence of modern cooperatives as a social and business model dates back to the 1890s. It emerged in response to specific social, economic and cultural constellations in the late 19th century, as a type of structure whose organizational and managerial architecture was based on the democratic style of management. The latter focuses on its members and the cooperative group by applying the democratic voting principle of ‘1 member – 1 vote’ in the supreme governing body, the General Assembly, regardless of the capital owned by the cooperator. It is undeniable that the Bulgarian cooperative movement/system in the course of its almost century and a half of development has had both a significant flourishing and a number of downturns. This is the reason for the considerable interest in both its theory and practice. 

Elucidating the emergence, establishment, development and future of the phenomenon of ‘modern cooperative movement/system and its core – the modern cooperative’ turns out not to be as easy as it first seems. The complexity is rooted in the peculiar ‘dual nature’ of the cooperative, which manifests itself as a single, integrated whole of 1) an enterprise (a business organisation) and 2) a cooperative group organising collective action in a specific historical and social context. Hence, the role of cooperative business and the modern cooperative as complex structures that can become a sustainable business model of the future. 

The Bulgarian cooperative movement/system and its core – the modern cooperative, considered as a social and business model in the conditions of the contemporary challenges facing society, on the one hand, requires complexity and innovation in scientific research, and on the other hand, the application of an interdisciplinary and dynamic approach. Only by combining these two aspects of the research work in the project proposal – namely the specific dual nature of the cooperative (uncharacteristic for any corporate/investor-owned firm or business model) – can be fully highlighted the dynamics of the Bulgarian cooperative movement/system. This is conditioned by the fact that the key to this highlighing lies in the understanding and explaining of both – the multidimensionality of the dual nature of the cooperative and the connectivity of the cooperative to its members. Such connectivity focuses on the relationship with them, because the members of the cooperative business model are at the same time owners, customers, and an integral part of the governance structure and its economic operations. The connection with the members gives the cooperative and cooperative business a uniqueness and specificity that is different from other business models. It is complemented by the relationships between the members themselves, between the members and the employees, and between the other stakeholders. 

The project proposal has a fundamental focus in line with regional, national and European research priorities. The work packages, the activities and the results of the research are in line with the main objective of the National Strategy for Research Development of the Republic of Bulgaria (NSRDRB) Bulgaria 2017 – 2030, i.e. to make science a factor for the development of a knowledge-based economy and innovation. 

The theme of the project is in line with the research and innovation priorities of the EC’s Horizon Europe program (2021-2027), as it seeks solutions to problems through the implementation of field studies, and the results obtained from them will offer measures to overcome inequalities in the development of specific spheres and regions.

The theme of the project is also in line with the priorities of the CCC’s Strategic Roadmap “COOP 2030” for the development of cooperatives in Bulgaria by 2030, which is in line with the International Cooperative Alliance’s (ICA) “Coops for 2030” guidelines for supporting cooperatives worldwide to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the UN Agenda. In 2021, Recognising the slowdown in the implementation of the UN Agenda, the EU Council committed to strengthening the social dimension of sustainable development and adopted a “Comprehensive Approach to Accelerate the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – Building Back Better”. As a result, the National Roadmap makes changes to the strategic direction for the development of Bulgarian cooperatives based on the ICA policy, with a focus on sustainable development, in line with cooperative principles and values.  

The multifaceted scientific problematics of cooperative movement/system and cooperative, which determine its relevance and significance, as well as focus the project proposal on the mentioned relations (member-cooperative, member-cooperative group, etc.) for a long period of time – from the emergence, establishment and development in the specific context to the present day as a social business model. The chosen focus of the project proposal gives it originality and innovation, compared to previous research in this field.