Co-ops guided by principles
Co-ops are consumer-owned and because of that, they are truly community-based. Co-ops are not owned by absent investors. They are not in the electric business to rake in cash from ratepayers so they can hand over healthy profits to investors whose main interest is to pad a portfolio.
Electric co-ops are in business for one reason only: to serve their consumers with the lowest cost, most reliable electricity possible. Some of them go beyond that and provide a myriad of other services to consumers because what their consumers have requested. It all boils down to what consumers want. Customer satisfaction is the primary objective, not a by-product of keeping Wall Street happy.
And unlike other electric utilities, electric cooperatives are the only ones that live by a code of behavior and commitment to their consumers. That code is “The Seven Cooperative Principles.” The principles were first established in England in 1844 by the Rochdale (rhymes with “Scotch-Dale”) Equitable Pioneers Society — the first modern co-op organization. This cooperative form of business now circles the globe. Co-ops worldwide serve more than 200 million families. In America, well-known co-ops include electric cooperatives, Sunkist, Land O’Lakes , Ocean Spray and credit unions.
Over the years, the original guiding principles have been altered and added to, most recently in 1995, by the International Cooperative Alliance. The seven cooperative principles are:
- Autonomy and independence: Cooperatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their cooperative autonomy.
- Education, training and information: Cooperatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperatives. They inform the general public — particularly young people and opinion leaders — about the nature and benefits of cooperative. (This principle is one of the reasons Electric Consumer, originally Indiana Rural News, was created in 1951 and comes to you monthly!)
- Concern for community: While focusing on member needs, cooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies accepted by their members.
- Voluntary and open membership: Cooperatives are voluntary organizations, 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.
- Members’ economic participation: Members contribute equally to, and democratically control, the capital of their cooperative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the cooperative. They 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 the cooperative, possibly by setting up reserves, part of which at least would be indivisible; benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the cooperative (capital credits); and supporting other activities approved by the membership.
- Cooperation among cooperatives: Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.
- Democratic member control: Cooperatives are democratic organizations 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 cooperatives, members have equal voting rights — one member, one vote — and cooperatives at other levels are organized in a democratic manner.