Co-operative Tamrinki1 - a co-operative for visually disabled
Formation of the co-operative
Co-operative Tamrinki was established as a result of a project that aimed at improving work inte-
gration among visually disabled people. The project was run by The Association of Visually Im-
paired in Tampere region and financed by finish charity organization RAY. Tampere Region Co-
operative centre was also involved concerning co-operative issues. During this project (1999-2001)
the aim was to create new working opportunities and a suitable working environment for visually
disabled people participating the project. The group of people that were involved in to the project
planning represented private entrepreneurs, Employment and Economic Development Centre of
Pirkanmaa, Central Association of Visually Impaired People and of course visually impaired people
During the project many choices were considered, but finally the outcome was establishing a new
co-operative at year 2000. There were eight founding members, seven visually impaired people and
the association of Tampere region visually impaired people. Co-operative attracted people because
of its democratic base and light bureaucratic structure. Today co-operative has eleven members.
They have professional skills for example as textile artisan, design carpenter, media assistant and
One vote one member
In co-operatives establishing document and rules has been ordered that the association takes part in
share capital with 20 shares, while other members have one share. Decision making power is still
working on one vote per member principle. Four of the members form the board of directors and
they are trusted to take care of some business and administration issues. In co-operative the highest
decision making power is in general meetings where every member has one vote. The local associa-
tion of visually impaired people don´t have representation in the board of directors, this is the prin-
ciple that fosters the participation of visually impaired members. The activities in the co-operative
are based on the participation of visually impaired members, they are both owners and employees
(workers) in their own company - Co-operative Tamrinki.
Well functioning working environment
The aim of the co-operative is to provide well functioning working environment and workplace for
visually impaired people and to maintain their decision making power to their own work. This ex-
plicit aim is also mentioned in the co-operatives by-laws. To promote this aim there has been started
a new project that provides support structure for them (more about this later). Co-operative Tam-
rinki offers various services; computer hardware and software services for visually impaired and
blind, computer skill training and audio services for visually impaired, office and technical services
for enterprises, handicrafts, graphic design and translation services. Co-operative is an enterprise
and under finish law it does not have any special benefits because of its social nature. Our society
treats the co-operative as a “normal” or ordinary enterprise in service sector.
As being an ordinary enterprise the economic risk can be compared to a limited company. It is pos-
sible to do liquidation and economic responsibility of members is limited in invested share capital.
Of course failures in indemnity responsibilities or criminal acts can bring personal obligation to
Acting in normal market economy means high level of economic risk, but the support structure
given to the co-operative is preventing problems beforehand. It is important to notice that the co-
operative is not receiving any direct financial support. Under finish law it is possible to distribute
profits but making profits is not a primary objective in a co-operative.
The created support structure gives mainly immaterial support like training, assisting in finding
business opportunities, assistance in marketing and producing marketing materials and help in ad-
ministration. The support is provided by a project that started in January 2002 financed same as the
first project. The project has employed one fulltime "work seeker" who works within the co-
operative but who is not a member. Project also provides allowance to special costs resulted from
visual defect such as travelling costs and guides. This support is not reducing the service prices, the
co-operative sells professional work not visual handicap.
Combining work with disabilities
Jobs that are provided are mainly part time jobs. Some of the members earn part of their incomes
from pensions and some from unemployment fees. Full time working is rarely possible because of
the physical limitations. It is very important that members can combine work and social benefits
creatively within their disabilities. In the year 2002 the co-operative has paid wages for six persons
and the turnover is estimated to be about 100 000 euros. There is also some unpaid work or volun-
tary work involved because co-operative forms also special community for the members. Also those
members who have difficulties in finding work still feel they belong to the group and they partici-
pate voluntarily in actions within the co-operative.
Co-operative Osuustyö Tampereen Kotikontu - work after long term unem-
Start from employment training
Co-operative Tampereen Kotikontu was established after an employment course which was aimed
at unemployed people in Tampere region. Training was organized by Tampere region co-operative
centre and it lasted for 12 weeks in year 1999. The training was financed by Employment and Eco-
nomic Development Centre of Pirkanmaa2. Seven people of those participating in training decided
to become co-operative entrepreneurs and they started this co-operative together. The importance of
the training session was very big because these people did not have any experience on entrepreneur-
ship or running an enterprise. During the course they could develop their own business ideas and
The Ministry of Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, and the Ministry of Labour have jointly
combined their regional forces in the Employment and Economic Development Centres (T&E Centre). Fifteen centres
countrywide provide a comprehensive range of advisory and development services for businesses, entrepreneurs, and
make a functioning business plan. The training was also important in creating trust and group work-
ing capabilities amongst the participants.
Channel to work
There were seven founding members (four women and three men) and all of them were long-term
unemployed and over 40 years old. Without this course and opportunities in co-operative they most
likely wouldn´t have any change to find work from open market. Unemployment rate in Tampere
region is about 16% and it is especially hard for elderly employees to find work. The co-operative
was still able to get a good start because all of the members had excellent professional skills. There
are fours cooks with variety specialities, household keeper and driver.
Today the co-operative is running a lunch café and a catering service. A big part of their daily in-
come comes from a contract with Nokia municipality for delivered meals for about 30-40 elderly
people every day. Their lunch room is also open for everyone to come in and eat. Catering services
are bought by individual people, banks, bigger firms and municipalities.
During these past three years the business idea of the co-operative have become more clear and the
members have coped also with some social problems between individual members. Today co-
operative is ran like a normal enterprise and its main goals are financial. But because of co-
operatives social and democratic nature the well-being of all members is important.
The estimated turnover in 2002 is about 200 000 euros. The share capital of the co-operative was
2000 euros and they had one loan from Finnvera3. When they bought their delivery-car, they also
needed guaranty which was also provided from Finnvera. The loan and the guaranty were quite
small and the co-operative has mainly grown by the working efforts of the members. The co-
operative had paid salaries for ten people; in addition to members there are extra people working
part time for example in catering happenings. All of the founding members have found work within
or through co-operative. There is also one member with apprenticeship contract to become a cook.
There is no volunteer work done in the co-operatives business activities. Participating in the co-
operatives administration is unpaid work, but it is a part of being an entrepreneur.
The co-operative has not earned profits, but there is no regulations prohibiting of doing so and de-
livering it to the members. There is no limitation to do so in co-operatives statute. But the main idea
of the co-operative Kotikontu is to provide meaningful work and reasonable salary for members,
not to make profits.
The co-operative is ran independently and board of directors is selected among the members. All
members have one vote and there is no influence what so ever from outside. The board of directors
have legal responsibilities to lead the company according to finish law and the rules of the co-
operative. If the co-operative makes bankruptcy, members financial responsibilities are limited to
share capital. If the company is ran deliberately wrong, legal responsibility may occur. In a small
co-operative like Kotikontu it is common that all important decisions are made together and this
Finnvera plc is a specialised financing company offering financing services to promote the domestic operations of
Finnish businesses and to further exports and internationalisation of enterprises. Finnvera is owned by the Finnish state.
increases the participatory nature of the co-operative. All the members are involved in everyday life
in co-operative and it is almost impossible to not participate.
The idea of Co-operative Tamrinki and Co-operative Osuustyö Tampereen Kotikontu
As described in WISE categories the idea of social enterprise or social firm is new and unclear in
Finland. The problem of unemployment is difficult and new measures and actions are needed. Many
of the employment actions carried out by employment agencies offer only temporary solutions. Fi-
nancial support for employing people easily lead to screw thread for an individual - when support
for one person is used, companies can take the next one on board. It is very hard to create long term
employment policy for individual unemployed. In these two examples we want to point out that
small is beautiful. We do not necessarily need big money projects, we need actions that give real
opportunities for people to take actions themselves.
New co-operative movement in Finland has shown clearly that small scale co-operative entrepre-
neurship gives a real opportunity for self employment and self help. Through co-operatives people
can sell their work safely and gain experience what it is like to be an entrepreneur. In the co-
operatives people built their own future for themselves. What they gain they also get. These two co-
operatives has arisen from the sector of new co-operatives and they fit very well for given EMES
criteria. Of course there are also those co-operatives that are enterprises that do not clearly have any
work integration purpose. Members in these workers co-operatives don´t normally have any diffi-
culties to find work, they just have chosen to work in a co-operative.
We think that the model we see in these two examples can be recommended and fostered. It is very
important to see new ways to create work: Work integration social enterprises are truly a fresh way
to look at the unemployment problem. In Finland new ideas are developing through good examples
which show real opportunities for unemployed people. We are in the beginning of the road that in-
tegrates people back to work and society through entrepreneurial activities. These two WISE cate-
gories and two case examples show that this road is worth going on.