We are in a time of growing community concern about the power of large companies that focus on share prices and quick profits rather than the needs of customers and the community; a time when affordable housing is lacking in most cities and regions; a time when many country areas are struggling to survive without services, employment and the reliable supply of goods.

This is the time to embrace practical, democratic alternatives to the large corporations and the paucity of basic services. It is time to support and strengthen socially responsible co-operatives.

Co-operatives have been called the enfants terribles of economics. Some regard them as too social for mainstream business, and others as too business-like for the not-for-profit sector.

Despite having more than a billion members worldwide, co-operatives are not well understood, nor given much attention by academia or the general public.

This manual follows the life cycle of co-operatives. There are sections to help readers understand what co-operatives are, start new co-operatives, understand how a co-operative is planned and managed, and how to deal with changes, including ending membership and closing a co-operative.

Throughout the manual, we have provided readers with information about the Co-operatives National Law (CNL), a uniform set of national laws for co-operatives, and what co-operatives need to do to comply with the CNL and the Co-operatives National Regulations (CNR).

Where possible, this manual has been written in plain English to make it an easy read but, for precision when referring to the provisions of the CNL, we have needed to retain much of the wording of the law.