This paper examines the issues of purpose, identity and the development of member value within co-operative and mutual enterprises (CMEs). It aims to explain the nature and importance of “purpose” in CMEs and how this is communicated by such firms to their members. The paper finds that while the concept of purpose is still ill-defined and informally applied by most enterprises, it remains a key part of the way in which CMEs seek to differentiate themselves from other types of business. The paper also examines the nature of “identity” in CMEs and the important role that the co-operative principles and values play in defining these enterprises. The importance of social capital is also examined and the role it plays in the fostering of loyalty and commitment by members. The need for CMEs to develop a clear understanding of their “purpose” and “identity” and communicate this to members is highlighted. This is particularly important for CMEs that have highly diverse membership communities, or where the “generic problems” poses a major risk to the enterprise over the longer term. Recommendations for future research and practice are outlined.
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