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PAGE 4 | NOVEMBER 2014


Learning the Cooperative Principles BY ADAM SCHWARTZ, Te Cooperative Way T


importance of education is often drilled into children by parents and grandparents from their


earliest memories. It is no accident that children are educated from a very early age while their young minds are still dry sponges willing to absorb so much.


Te 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.” Tis 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 learn about cooperatives in school. Tat 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. Cooperatives operate on a not-for- profit basis so that the best price for the good or service can be passed off to the member–owner.


Due to the fact that the co-op business model is normally not taught by teachers, it is up to cooperatives to ensure that the differences and benefits of being a co-op member are understood. Consumer surveys by Touchstone Energy and others consistently affirm that people prefer to


ABOVE: COOPERATIVES HAVE A LONG-STANDING HISTORY OF SERVICE AND EDUCATION. RIGHT: 1988 TCEC SAFETY PROGRAM EDUCATED MEMBER COMMUNITY.


do business with a cooperative if given a choice.


So why don’t they teach about co-ops in school? Tere 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. Te first issue about research is being addressed by the Cooperative Business Research Institute at Indiana University. Te 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 TCEC through our website, annual meeting, stopping by the office or talking to fellow co-op members are all good ways to better understand the cooperative model members are a part of.


By knowing more about how cooperatives operate, members are in a better position to participate in the process. Questions and comments are always welcomed to help better promote the Cooperative Way of doing business. n


Adam Schwartz is the founder of Te 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.


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