Promotion of education

One of seven cooperative principles gives co-ops guidance

nbs_ctOne of my favorite bumper ­stickers is, “If you can read this, thank a teacher.” The importance of education was drilled into me by my parents and grandmother from my earliest memories around the age of four. It is no accident that we educate children from a very early age while their young minds are still dry sponges willing to absorb so much.

The original seven co-op principles set forth in 1844 contained the simple phrase, “Promotion of Education.” Today, Principle Five states that all co-ops should promote “Education, Training and Information.” This is intended for the employees, members and the ­community at large.

It is based on the simple premise that if people know more about the cooperative business model, they will be in a much better position to understand the benefits and promote better use of the co-op and its resources.

While there are almost one ­million people in the U.S. that work for ­cooperatives of all types ­(agriculture, housing, credit unions and many ­others in addition to electric co-ops) very few of us learn about ­cooperatives in school. That creates a real challenge when trying to explain the ­cooperative difference. People understand an investor-owned ­business is designed to make a profit or that a non-profit, like the Red Cross, is designed to serve the community. Co-ops have both an economic and social purpose. We operate on a not-for-profit basis so that we can pass along the best price for our goods or service to you, the member-owner.

Due to the fact that the co-op ­business model is normally not taught by teachers, it is up to us the Illinois electric co-ops through publications like this one to ensure that you know about the differences and benefits of being a co-op member. Consumer surveys by Touchstone Energy and others consistently affirm that people prefer to do business with a ­cooperative if given a choice.

So why don’t they teach about ­co-ops in school? There are ­several theories about this including that there is not enough academic research about co-ops, which is often the source for curriculums. Another ­reason offered is that the co-op ­community is so diverse that ­teaching about it only creates more ­confusion. The first issue about research is being addressed by the Cooperative Business Research Institute at Indiana University. The second can be addressed by answering the old ­question: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Simply by taking an interest in learning about electric co-ops through your co-op’s website, annual meeting, stopping by the office or talking to your fellow co-op members are all good ways to better understand the cooperative model you’re a part of.

Do you know the difference between an investor-owned ­utility and an electric co-op? Cooperatives around the world ­operate ­according to the same core prin­ciples and ­values, adopted by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA). Cooperatives trace the roots of these principles to the first modern ­cooperative founded in Rochdale, England in 1844.

All cooperative ­businesses have at their foundation these seven ­cooperative principles:

•Voluntary and Open Membership

• Democratic Member Control

• Members’ Economic Participation

 Adam Schwartz is the founder of The Cooperative Way, a ­consulting firm that helps co-ops succeed. He is an author, speaker and a member-owner of the CDS Consulting Co-op. You can follow him on Twitter ­ @adamcooperative or email him at aschwartz@thecooperativeway.coop.


Adam Schwartz is the founder of The Cooperative Way, a ­consulting firm that helps co-ops succeed. He is an author, speaker and a member-owner of the CDS Consulting Co-op. You can follow him on Twitter ­
@adamcooperative or email him at aschwartz@thecooperativeway.coop.

• Autonomy and Independence

• Education, Training and Information

• Cooperation Among Cooperatives

• Concern for Community

By knowing more about how ­cooperatives operate, you are in a better position to participate as member-owners. We always welcome your questions and comments to help us promote the Cooperative Way of doing business.

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