The Statement on the Co-operative Identity  defines and guides co-operatives worldwide. It contains the definition of a co-operative, the values of co-operatives, and the currently accepted Principles of Co-operation. It was adopted by the International Co-operative Alliance, an international co-operative union, in 1995.
According to this statement, a Co-operative is defined as "an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise." They "are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others."
The Statement lists the current version of the Rochdale Principles as follows:
1: Voluntary and open membership
"Co-operatives are voluntary organisations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination."
2: Democratic member control
"Co-operatives are democratic organisations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions. Men and women serving as elected representatives are accountable to the membership. In primary co-operatives members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote) and co-operatives at other levels are also organised in a democratic manner."
3: Member economic participation
"Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of their co-operative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the co-operative. Members usually receive limited compensation, if any, on capital subscribed as a condition of membership. Members allocate surpluses for any or all of the following purposes: developing their co-operative, possibly by setting up reserves, part of which at least would be indivisible; benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the co-operative; and supporting other activities approved by the membership."
4: Autonomy and independence
"Co-operatives are autonomous, self-help organisations controlled by their members. If they enter to agreements with other organisations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their co-operative autonomy."
5: Education, training, and information
"Co-operatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their co-operatives. They inform the general public - particularly young people and opinion leaders - about the nature and benefits of co-operation."
6: Cooperation among cooperatives
"Co-operatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the co-operative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures."
7: Concern for community
"Co-operatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members."
Social enterprises are organizations which trade in goods or services and link that trade to a social mission. The need to deliver on financial, social and environmental performance targets is often referred to as having a triple bottom line.
The best established European research network in the field, EMES, works with a more articulated definition - a Weberian 'ideal type' rather than a prescriptive definition - which relies on nine fuzzy criteria:
1. continuous activity of the production and/or sale of goods and services (rather than predominantly advisory or grant-giving functions).
2. a high level of autonomy: social enterprises are created voluntarily by groups of citizens and are managed by them, and not directly or indirectly by public authorities or private companies, even if they may benefit from grants and donations. Their shareholders have the right to participate (voice) and to leave the organisation (exit).
3. a significant economic risk: the financial viability of social enterprises depends on the efforts of their members, who have the responsibility of ensuring adequate financial resources, unlike most public institutions.
4. social enterprises' activities require a minimum number of paid workers, although, like traditional non-profit organisations, social enterprises may combine financial and non-financial resources, voluntary and paid work.
5. an explicit aim of community benefit: one of the principal aims of social enterprises is to serve the community or a specific group of people. To the same end, they also promote a sense of social responsibility at local level.
6. citizen initiative: social enterprises are the result of collective dynamics involving people belonging to a community or to a group that shares a certain need or aim. They must maintain this dimension in one form or another.
7. decision making not based on capital ownership: this generally means the principle of 'one member, one vote', or at least a voting power not based on capital shares. Although capital owners in social enterprises play an important role, decision-making rights are shared with other shareholders.
8. participatory character, involving those affected by the activity: the users of social enterprises' services are represented and participate in their structures. In many cases one of the objectives is to strengthen democracy at local level through economic activity.
9. limited distribution of profit: social enterprises include organisations that totally prohibit profit distribution as well as organisations such as co-operatives, which may distribute their profit only to a limited degree, thus avoiding profit maximising behaviour.
Ongoing research work characterises social enterprises as often having multiple objectives, multiple stakeholders and multiple sources of funding.