Underexplored and barely known, the Malawian co-operative movement has experienced serious challenges since its inception in 1946. Rural co-operatives in the country have endured crises and yet they are thriving in adverse circumstances. In this article we asked to what extent and in what ways rural Malawian co-operatives are resilient social and economic organisations? In the absence of a consolidated body of literature on ‘co-operative resilience’ we address this question by (1) reviewing the existing literature on co-operatives and identifying key factors that appear to be conducive to resilience and (2) by analysing extensive field data on four of the biggest co-operatives Unions in Malawi and establishing how they have coped with challenges. The field-based data and our literature findings shed new insights into the nature of resilience. Co-operative resilience is a long term processes, one based on reflexivity and interactions between members, leaders and national and international organisations. Resilient strategies developed by rural Malawian co-operatives are also outlined and explored.