As cooperatives in the United States prepare to observe National Co-op Month in October, it’s hard to imagine life without the seventh principle: concern for community. But until 25 years ago, it wasn’t officially part of co-ops’ core set of values.
On Sept. 21, the International Co-operative Alliance, the service organization for co-ops around the world, celebrated the anniversary of the Statement on the Cooperative Identity and the adoption of guiding co-op principles, including concern for community. The measures were among those passed in 1995 at the World Cooperative Congress in Manchester, England, a gathering of more than 2,000 co-op representatives from across the globe.
The meeting is recognized as a watershed for the global cooperative movement, on par with the founding of the first co-op in Rochdale, England, more than 175 years ago, said Martin Lowery, NRECA executive vice president emeritus and chair of the ICA Cooperative Identity Committee.
“It was the best effort since the Rochdale pioneers in 1844 to present our common DNA to ourselves and to the world,” Lowery said. “For the first time, the ICA defined co-ops and instituted standards and values for a common cooperative identity.”
Lowery noted that adding concern for community has been particularly meaningful to U.S. electric co-ops.
“Principle seven has made an important, positive difference because it’s a constant reminder that it’s the community that matters,” he said. “Electric cooperatives take that responsibility very seriously.”
The lead-up to the World Congress in 1995 was 15 years in the making. Under pressure by its member co-ops, the ICA had been studying how to adapt broad values and principles to better fit changing times. The global economy was evolving, the Iron Curtain had fallen, and co-op memberships were becoming more diverse.
“Just as every human being has an identity, a self-identity, cooperative enterprises do as well,” said Lowery. “Cooperatives are people-driven, or member-driven, and as a member, you actually own it and can make a difference in terms of the direction of the business and the services that are provided.”
In honor of the 25th anniversary of the addition of the seventh cooperative principle, here are seven co-op moments in 2020 that embody concern for community:
Pennsylvania Co-op Helps Build Drive-In Movie Theater to Attract Crowds Safely
It was a double feature of concern for community and socially distanced summer fun when Bedford Rural Electric Cooperative helped build a drive-in movie theater. (See the full story.)
Grateful Wisconsin Co-op Employee Pays Member’s $300 Electric Bill
An engineering technician and an elderly member reconnected over a powerful moment experienced years ago. (See the full story.)
North Dakota Co-ops Grow Connections Between Local Growers, Small-Town Grocers
When the pandemic threatened food distribution chains, North Dakota’s electric co-ops helped connect local farmers and grocery stores. (See the full story.)
Co-ops, Restaurants Team Up to Provide Meals During COVID-19 Pandemic
Kindness was on the menu when co-ops and restaurants, struggling with loss of business, provided meals during the pandemic’s early days. (See the full story.)
Oregon Co-op Helps Bring Virtual Reality Training to First Responders
First responder training in remote areas of Oregon is going high-tech, thanks to a co-op initiative that ties technology to economic development. (See the full story.)
Amid Pandemic Shortages, Co-op Partners With Distillery to Produce Hand Cleanser
A Kansas co-op and a local whiskey distillery teamed up to fill an urgent need for hand cleanser amid a nationwide shortage. (See the full story.)
Co-op Speeds Broadband Connection to Clinic for COVID-19 Testing
An Indiana co-op crew shoveled through snow to provide broadband internet access to a new clinic opened to test patients for the coronavirus. (See the full story.)
Victoria A. Rocha is a staff writer at NRECA.
Download your own wallet-sized card or poster on the seven cooperative principles on cooperative.com.