The institution of the agricultural cooperative has its roots in ancient times. It has always played a very important and crucial role in representing members-farmers in the supply chain [1
]. The supply chain includes the producer, the processor, the wholesaler, the retailer and, finally, the consumer. So, a cooperative is an autonomous association of individuals formed voluntarily to address their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a co-administered and democratically governed enterprise [2
The success of the cooperatives within the competitive structure of the market depends on various factors. In addition to the skills of its executives, it presupposes the existence of social capital that is proven by the presence of characteristics such as trust, reciprocity, commitment and the active participation of its members [4
]. This is important for the active participation of the members of the cooperative because it includes many of the characteristics of social capital, such as the cooperative culture, the open communication between members and management, the trust of members in the management of the cooperative, the involvement of members with the affairs of the cooperative and the desire to take an active part in the day-to-day affairs of the cooperative [5
]. However, to achieve the active participation of the members in the cooperative, the existence of all these characteristics is necessary.
In addition, the value of democracy that governs the institution of cooperatives contributes to the strengthening of the role of members and leads to their full commitment to it [6
]. The value of democracy is a characteristic choice of cooperatives and a proof of the anthropocentrism of the cooperative institution, which controls and subordinates the economic operation to the person who places it in the center of his interest, recognizing in his person rights and obligations [7
]. Democracy is a key component of the cooperative idea and is expressed in the fundamental cooperative principle of “democratic administration of cooperatives”, which is manifested in: (a) democratic procedures for the election of boards such as the Board of Directors and (b) in the general meetings, where decisions are also taken based on the principle of majority [8
This paper aims to investigate the way that cooperatives governed affect the commitment of the members. To achieve the aim of the paper, an on-site survey was conducted in the agricultural cooperatives of the prefecture of Larissa. In the survey, 100 cooperative members participated, who were asked to complete a closed-ended questionnaire based on the 7-point Likert scale. The results showed that the democratic way of governing cooperatives leads its members to their full commitment, ignoring any new opportunity offered to them by a competing cooperative. However, it is interesting that despite the loyalty of the members to the cooperative, they do not seem to want to be involved in positions of responsibility. This is a critical issue and requires significant investigation into how cooperatives ultimately encourage their members to take on these key positions [9
3. Materials and Methods
3.1. Population and Sample
The target population of this study were individuals aged 18 years and over, who are members of agricultural cooperatives in the prefecture of Larissa in Greece (Table 1
). The sample consists of 100 people, with most of them coming from the age group of 41–50 years (29%). Over half of the participants are males (75%) and 45% of them have work experience in cooperatives of 11–25 years. Predominantly, the educational level of the members is secondary education (60%), while 21% of them have higher education and 19% have basic education.
3.2. Data Collection Instruments
A quantitative methodological approach was used in this study. Questionnaire of closed-ended questions was the main tool for data collection and it was apart from two sections. The first section referred to the demographics of the participants and included five questions regarding their gender, age, years of cooperative activity, current position in cooperatives and level of education. The second section of the questionnaire included 20 questions. The first 10 questions were related to the level of the cooperative culture of the members and the following 10 concerned the attitude-belief of the member towards the way the cooperative operates. All these questions were rated on a 7-point Likert frequency scale (1—strongly disagree to 7—strongly agree).
Regarding the investigation of the degree of cooperative culture of the members, the individuals who participated in the research were asked to answer 10 key questions, such as the statement of the degree that they consider to be closely related to the cooperative to which they belong. Members were also asked if they had considered leaving the cooperative they belonged to during their partnership and if they would continue to belong to it if they received an invitation to join another cooperative. Lastly, questions regarding the investigation of the degree of agreement of the members with the principles of each cooperative and their declaration of willingness to invest their future funds to support the cooperative were some more questions, which contributed positively to the examination of the cooperative culture of the members.
The second set of questions (10 questions) were focused on the investigation of the attitude-belief of the member towards the governance of the cooperatives. In this part, the participants were asked to answer questions which related to their intention to take future management positions in the cooperative they belong to or even to take a position of responsibility outside the articles of association of the cooperative. As communication is an important factor in the governance of cooperatives, members were asked to state the extent to which they consider their communication with other members of the cooperative to be good or not. Finally, the decision-making process is an important and crucial issue that concerns most cooperatives. So, this section included questions related to the degree of participation of members in the decision-making bodies of cooperatives such as the General Assembly and the participation of members in the strategic planning process.
Finally, the questionnaire was checked for its viability and reliability. Table 2
lists the reliability and descriptive statistical measures of the research scales. The internal coherence reliability of the scales was assessed with the Cronbach’s Alpha coefficient. The value of Cronbach’s Alpha coefficient is 0.855, which characterizes as very good the reliability and coherence of the questionnaire. The score for the Survey Questions scale ranges from 2.00 to 6.63 with an average value of 5.02 (standard deviation = 1.104), which indicates normal levels for most of the sample.
For the collection of data, field research was conducted in agricultural cooperatives in the prefecture of Larissa, which belongs to the Region of Thessaly in Greece. The data collection period lasted from June 2019 to December 2019. However, in May 2019 a pilot survey was conducted which contributed to the correction and identification of some defects of the questionnaire.
The sampling process was performed by the method of convenience sampling. The convenience method is a process contributing to the creation of a kind of sample of volunteers, who are receptive and willing to participate in the research. This method was followed in the current study to form the required sample, which was finally apart from 100 members from agricultural cooperatives in the prefecture of Larissa.
The completion of the questionnaire was anonymous, while the field research took place in two phases. In the first phase, pilot research was carried out, which lasted one month (May 2019). During this phase, 10 cooperative members were willing to complete the questionnaire in order for the authors to proceed with the appropriate corrections/improvements of the questionnaire. The validity of the content of the questionnaire, was checked by the authors, too. In the second and last phase, which lasted 6 months (June–December 2019), the data collection took place, which was conducted by distributing the questionnaires to the members of the agricultural cooperatives that were selected to participate in the research. The distribution of the questionnaires was made by the researchers. In addition, the questionnaire was accompanied by a full text that described the purpose and object of the research, while there was an extensive reference to ensuring the anonymity and confidentiality of the data.
To perform the data processing, IBM SPSS Statistics 25 software was used, and descriptive statistics techniques were used to describe the sample and perform the descriptive analysis of the variables that characterize the members of the agricultural cooperatives and their commitment to them. To investigate possible correlations, an inductive analysis was performed. In the scales that followed the normal distribution, the parametric tests χ2-test, t-test and ANOVA were performed, while in the scales that did not follow the normal distribution, the non-parametric Kruskal–Wallis test was performed. The significance level was set at 5%.
Cooperation and the creation of cooperatives and cooperative enterprises in the agricultural sector is one of the main means by which small farmers can survive in conditions of increased competition. Farmers are always considered “small” entrepreneurs compared to their counterparts in other sectors of the economy [10
]. Therefore, the need for survival leads farmers to unite to gain bargaining power. Agricultural cooperatives were and remain the only mechanism for the acquisition of bargaining power of small and weak producers, which is the main reason for the creation of cooperatives.
The entrepreneurial activity of farmers through cooperatives is a form of activity that is not abandoned despite all the problems it presents, especially in Greece. Cooperatives, internationally, are well-organized companies that present positive results for both their members and their social environment [16
]. As a rule, the strengths and weaknesses of cooperatives are “the two sides of the coin”, which have their roots in their structure. The main goal of agricultural cooperatives is considered to be to promote the interests of their members, for example, increasing of the income of members, the possibility of reducing production costs, reducing costs related to transaction costs and better flows of information on marketing issues. In general, agricultural cooperatives ensure the presence of small economic units in the market, which would have been inactivated by the competitive power of large capital-intensive enterprises [17
For cooperatives to be able to realize and reap the benefits attributed to them, they must be able to adapt to the external environment in which they operate. However, both the global and national business and economic environment is constantly changing and requires companies to develop not only systematic operating processes but also systematic learning and adaptation processes to the changing environment in which they operate [18
]. Therefore, it is necessary for cooperatives to be organized and operate effectively, according to the management theories used in other companies, always considering the specifics of the cooperative way of doing business.
The aim of the article is to investigate the extent to which the way cooperatives are governed affects the level of cooperative commitment of members. More than half of the members surveyed said they were largely affiliated with the cooperative they work for. At the same time, many members stated that throughout their career in the cooperative, they never thought of leaving it, even if they were offered a better position than another cooperative. In addition, more than 80% of the members fully agree with the principles that govern the cooperatives and express the need to defend it in practice in every difficult time. In particular, the members declare their willingness to support the cooperative financially, even if their profits after this action are significantly reduced.
The above indicate the positive attitude and behavior of the Members towards the cooperatives, a fact which significantly determines the course of the cooperatives during their years of operation. Therefore, the research presents that the members of the cooperatives of the prefecture of Larissa and their positive attitude towards the cooperative for which they work is due to the following factors: (i) the cooperative education that governs the members and (ii) their need to support the cooperative financially, even though their financial interests depend to a large extent on the cooperative. The cooperative education of the members is their belief regarding the long-term benefit they can have from their participation in it [4
]. The specific belief regarding the effectiveness of the cooperative action is a key component for the cooperation. At the beginning of the activities of the cooperative, a strong belief is required, orienting the success that will be achieved through the joint effort of the members [18
]. This belief is a product of the need that exists for the creation and development of the cooperative, but in any case, this belief does not mean indiscriminate acceptance of the actions of the management of the cooperative, it simply indicates good faith during the cooperative. As for the financial support of the members to the cooperative in case of need, the members maintain a positive attitude towards sacrificing a part of their profits to financially support the cooperative.
However, despite the constant support of the members to the cooperative, there is a reluctance from their side to take any position of responsibility in it. This may be due both to the lack of leadership qualities on the part of the members, but also to the lack of encouragement from the executives of the cooperative [19
]. In both cases, there is a need to motivate members. As the performance of the members depends not only on their ability but also on their willingness to make the maximum effort, their motivation is important for improving the performance of the cooperative [20
]. Therefore, the motivation of the members with the help of the appropriate incentives pushes the members and the employees of the cooperative to: (i) take responsibilities, (ii) achieve the planned goals, (iii) perform their duties, (iv) make the greatest possible effort and (v) implement projects [21
]. Therefore, motivation should be aimed at creating pleasure and motivating members to participate actively. Motivation is related to the recognition of efforts, the development of knowledge and experience and the prospects of personal and professional development.
Every research is subject to certain methodological limitations. With regard to this research, only members from cooperatives in Greece participated in the present study, which does not allow for the conclusions and key findings to be generalized internationally. This limitation is due to the different elements that govern each country (cultural, social, cultural, etc.), which contribute to the different governance of cooperatives. In addition, given the limited time to distribute more questionnaires, an effort was made to obtain as many answers as possible. Finally, the sample that was formed provided reliable answers that led to important findings.
In recent years, the governance of cooperatives has been an issue of particular concern to the global research community [8
]. In Greece, most research regarding regional development is focused on business demographics [22
]. The number of surveys related to cooperatives is quite limited, while the present survey is one of the few that have been conducted to date [4
]. Regarding the findings of the present study, as well as the limitations mentioned above, future proposals for further research emerge. Initially, it is important for future scholars to investigate the correlation of the factors that favor the profitability of cooperative enterprises compared to others, as well as the way in which the psychological contribution affects the performance of the members of the cooperative [23
]. At the same time, it is important to investigate the factor of innovation in cooperative enterprises and the degree of its correlation or interaction with cooperative commitment. Finally, regarding the strengthening of the cooperative culture, the Greek government in cooperation with the cooperatives must explore ways of integrating young people into them. This can be achieved through specific integration programs related to the cooperative environments [24
The cooperative culture reflects the degree to which each member embraces the principles and values of cooperation, because they match their own personal values. The existence of a cooperative culture mobilizes the active participation of the members because the members consider that it is their obligation to interfere with the affairs of the cooperative and it contributes positively in terms of the way they are governed. The present study investigates the relationship between cooperative culture and the way of cooperative governance from the perspective of cooperative members. For this purpose, a survey was conducted in the agricultural cooperatives of the prefecture of Larissa in Greece, in which 100 members participated.
The results of the research highlighted that most of the cooperative members are closely connected with the cooperative they belong to. The statements of the cooperative members that they do not intend to leave the cooperative, even if they are offered a better position in another cooperative, are very interesting. Following this, the members stated that they fully agree with the principles of the cooperative and feel the need to defend it in any case (positive or negative). Consequently, the future of cooperatives is of practical concern to the members. However, the fact that almost 60% of the cooperative members do not want to take any position of responsibility in it is particularly impressive. Although the level of cooperative commitment remains high, the willingness to actively participate is relatively low. The main reason for this reluctant behavior on the part of the cooperative members is the lack of self-confidence or the fear of the involvement of their personal property with the debts of the cooperative to the state. At this point further effort is required, to make the involvement of the members more active.
Finally, regarding the characteristics of the way the cooperative is governed, the members seem to converge in their views on this issue. In particular, most of the participants in the research pointed out that they influence the course of the cooperative and that the greater their involvement in it, the more they benefit financially. In summary, the members seem to evaluate as very important, but also progressive the course of their cooperative. The freedom of participation and decision-making seems to dominate the way cooperatives are governed which is a very important factor, that works positively not only for the existing members of the cooperatives but in attracting young people to engage with the cooperatives, too.