The Cooperative Difference

In 1752, Benjamin Franklin along with his fellow firefighters established the Philadelphia Contributionship for the Insurance of Homes from Loss by Fire. This was the first cooperative type business formed in the United States. “Contribution” was defined at that time to mean “that which is given by several hands for some common purpose.” This mutual insurance company is still operating today, making it the longest continuous operating cooperative in the United States.

Many early cooperatives failed within a few years. A historical change occured in 1843 in Rochdale, England. A group of textile millworkers founded the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society, in order to procure food and household goods at a better price. While not the first cooperative society, they did something different to ensure that the cooperative would succeed and endure. To avoid the mistakes of earlier cooperatives, they established a set of cooperative principles governing their organization.

These "Rochdale Principles" form the basis on which cooperatives throughout the world operate. Today, electric cooperatives like Duncan Valley Electric Cooperative operate on the following seven principles:

  1. Voluntary and Open Membership. Cooperatives are voluntary organizations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership.
  2. Democratic Member Control. Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting policies and making decisions.
  3. Members’ Economic Participation. Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of their cooperative.
  4. Autonomy and Independence. Cooperatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members.
  5. Education, Training, and Information. Cooperatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperatives.
  6. Cooperation Among Cooperatives. Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together.
  7. Concern for Community. While focusing on member needs, cooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities.

Cooperatives are found in all walks of life. Examples of cooperatives include credit unions; mutual insurance exchanges; and farming, housing, producer and consumer cooperatives. Just because a company has cooperative in the name doesn't mean it's a cooperative.  Make sure it adheres to the cooperative principles outlined above.