Thursday, April 22, 2010
A benefit society or mutual aid society is an organization or voluntary association formed to provide mutual aid, benefit or insurance for relief from sundry difficulties. Such organizations may be formally organized with charters and established customs, or may arise ad hoc to meet unique needs of a particular time and place.
Benefit societies can be organized around a shared ethnic background, religion, occupation, geographical region or other basis. Benefits may include money or assistance for sickness, retirement, education, birth of a baby, funeral and medical expenses, unemployment. Often benefit societies provide a social or educational framework for members and their families to support each other and contribute to the wider community.
Examples of benefit societies include trade unions, friendly societies, credit unions, self-help groups, landsmanshaftn, immigrant hometown societies, Fraternal organizations such as Freemasons and Oddfellows and many others. Peter Kropotkin posited early in the 20th century that mutual aid affiliations predate human culture and are as much a factor in evolution as is survival of the fittest.