October is National Cooperative Month - Carolina Country

Strength In Numbers

October is Co-op Month: As a member, you have the power

By Sara Coats

Sara Coats

Sara Coats

As a reader of Carolina Country magazine, you probably know there are 26 electric cooperatives in North Carolina. If 26 didn’t raise your eyebrows, check out the following numbers: North Carolina electric cooperatives serve more than 2.5 million people — in 93 out of 100 counties — maintaining more than 98,000 miles of power lines. What an impact! And that’s just from one sector of cooperatives.

Did you know there are more sectors of co-ops? With 40,000 co-ops in the United States, cooperatives are all around us! They vary in size, industries and sectors; from your local grocery market or ACE Hardware store, to larger organizations such as Land O’Lakes.

October is Co-op Month: as a member, you hold the power.

Some of the various sectors include: utilities (like electric, telecommunications and water cooperatives); agriculture; education; credit union and financial services; food and grocery; healthcare; housing; and mutual insurance.

So, what is a co-op anyway? A cooperative is defined by the International Cooperative Alliance as “an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically controlled enterprise.” In layman’s terms, that means a fantastic business model created by people, for people, for a common cause.

Each cooperative business is run based on the values of the Seven Cooperative Principles. The two I will highlight are the First Cooperative Principle, “Democratic Member Control,” and the Sixth Cooperative Principle, “Cooperation Among Cooperatives.”

“Democratic Member Control” means you, as a member of an electric cooperative, have the power. You have a vote — YOU, the people who use the service of the cooperative, have a voice.

“Cooperation Among Cooperatives” is the principle I personally love the most. This principle is what makes cooperatives stand out from large, competitive corporations. Co-ops work together, across sectors and across industries, but also within the same industry and within the same sector. There is no cooperative competition stance as you might see elsewhere. Co-ops are the opposite of competitive.

Think about what happens following a bad storm. Different electric cooperatives join together from all over to help community members in their time of need.

Telephone and electric cooperatives are working together to determine the need for broadband in rural areas. Thanks to their cooperative work, co-ops are able to deliver more broadband in many rural areas.

Financial cooperatives also come to the rescue during times of need, such as the pandemic, with creative payment plans to continue helping its members. They also finance capital structures of individual cooperatives, in turn, serving more people.

These heroic efforts could not be done alone. The cooperation among cooperatives is endless, and the proof is in the pudding. We are stronger together. I bet you will find that you have cooperatives all around you. I challenge you to stay engaged with your electric cooperative, and seek out other co-ops to join in your community. Continue to use your power to make a difference in our world.

About the Author

Sara Coats is executive director for the Cooperative Council of NC, an association of cooperatives across the state.

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