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CO - OP LIVI NG The year of living


Electric co-ops join a global celebration International Year o


By Megan McCoy-Noe, CCC


s it possible to change the way people eat a fruit? Could cheese unite communities? Can electricity transform the future of a country? It’s possible ... with a little coopera- tion.


I


The United Nations General Assembly desig- nated 2012 as International Year of Cooperatives (IYC 2012), under the banner “Cooperative En- terprises Build a Better World.” The resolution recognizes the vital role cooperatives—democrati- cally governed businesses that operate on an at- cost, not-for-profi t basis—play in the economic and social well-being of nations around the globe and encourages countries to foster cooperative development as a way to generate local wealth, employment, and marketplace competition. “At a time when folks are losing faith in big


corporations, International Year of Cooperatives 2012 offers us a great opportunity to showcase the many ways the local, consumer-owned and member-controlled cooperative form of busi- ness benefi ts communities all over the world,” declares Glenn English, CEO for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. “It gives cooperatives a perfect venue to contrast how we differ from profi t-driven companies.”


Co-ops are everywhere If variety is the spice of life, co-ops are a zesty bunch. Every day, more than 29,200 coopera- tives supply essential products and services to American consumers, touching our lives in almost every way. Tomorrow at breakfast, check your morning


paper. Many of the articles may be labeled “As- sociated Press” or “AP.” Those stories were writ- ten by individual reporters but distributed by a cooperative news organization. If your breakfast includes freshly squeezed orange juice, it may be from a Sunkist product. Sunkist is a cooperative formed by California and Arizona citrus growers.


And the list goes on: Land O’ Lakes butter, Ocean Spray cranberry juice, Sun-Maid raisins, Welch’s grape jelly, Nationwide Insurance, Blue Diamond almonds, Ace Hardware, REI outdoor


6 OKLAHOMA LIVING


gear—they are all cooperatives. In fact, one out of every four Americans claims membership in some type of cooperative, including 91 million served by credit unions and 42 million connected to more than 900 electric cooperatives in 47 states. Although many in number, cooperatives differ from “typical” businesses in one big way: they are organized for the benefi t of their members, not single owners or stockholders. “Co-ops are established when the for-profi t,


investor-owned commercial sector fails to meet a need, either due to price or availability of goods and services,” explains Martin Lowery, NRECA executive vice president, external affairs and chairman of the Washington, D.C.-based Na- tional Cooperative Business Association Board of Directors. “The co-op business model works in housing, utilities, and in both rural and urban settings. Co-ops empower people to take control over their own economic destinies.” He continues: “When you’re a member of a co-op, you have a real say in the direction of that business. That’s critical—it helps the co-op rapidly respond to changing conditions. As an example, a number of electric co-ops have branched out into other pursuits beyond electricity to meet pressing consumer and community requirements.” Dallas Tonsager, under secretary for rural


development with the U.S. Department of Agri- culture, points out that co-ops “are only as good as the people running them and only succeed when members support them. But well-managed, democratically run co-ops have proven time and time again that when people unite to achieve a common goal, they can accomplish anything.”


On the cutting edge Odds are you have orange juice in your refrig- erator. But before a 1916 advertising campaign by Sunkist, oranges were only eaten by the slice. By the end of World War I, however, Sunkist’s “Drink an Orange” push had increased the average per capita serving size from one-half an orange to almost three.


This pioneering co-op tradition continues in


many ways today: •Credit unions fought off the destructive cycle of payday loans by creating salary advance loans


with low rates that placed part of the borrowing into a savings account—helping members escape a cycle of debt •Marketing coopera-


tives added food nutri- tion labels to products long before it was re- quired by federal law •Electric coopera-


tives lead the way in smart grid implemen- tation—close to half have installed advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), with 30 percent integrating AMI or auto- mated meter reading devices with various software applica- tions, such as outage manage- ment and geographic information systems


“Co-ops have made these investments because it makes sense for them and their members,” stresses English. “It’s an outgrowth of the co-op commitment to innovation—the same spirit that allowed co-ops to overcome seemingly insur- mountable technical, engineering, legal, political, and fi nancial hurdles in the late 1930s to bring central station electricity to all corners of America. Thanks to our consumer orientation, co-ops work to ensure that all decisions—technology-based or otherwise—focus on their core mission: provid- ing members with a safe, reliable, and affordable supply of power.” It is hard to conceive of America without coop-


eratives, Tonsager refl ects. “Agricultural co-ops have made our nation the breadbasket of the world. This occurred, in part, through lending from the farmer-owned, cooperative Farm Credit System and power supplied by electric co-ops. Today, electric and telephone co-ops are playing a vital role in deploying the advanced distribu- tion, transmission, and telecommunications infrastructure that rural America needs to prosper and stay competitive.”


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