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What Makes a Co-op a Co-op? The Seven Electric Cooperative Principles

Electric co-ops, like all genuine cooperative businesses around the world, adhere to seven guiding principles that have their origins in a co-op store organized in Rochdale, England, in 1844 by 28 weavers and other artisans. They wanted a set of principles to guide their new organization.

The Rochdale Principles were first set down in writing by the International Cooperative Alliance in 1937.

Today, the seven principles they developed are used around the world today to define the spirit of a cooperative. Member-customers of electric co-ops throughout Texas rely on these principles as they manage the operations of their cooperatives. (To learn more, see With Cooperatives You've Got a Friend).

The principles are:

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, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.

2. Democratic Member Control. Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting policies and making decisions. The elected representatives are accountable to the membership. In cooperatives, members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote).

3. Members’ Economic Participation. Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of their cooperative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the cooperative. Members usually receive limited compensation, if any, on capital subscribed as a condition of membership.

4. Autonomy and Independence. Cooperatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their cooperative autonomy.

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. They inform the general public, particularly young people and opinion leaders, about the nature and benefits of cooperation.

6. Cooperation Among Cooperatives. Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures. See Hurricane Ike Diary to learn how co-op employees pitched in to turn the lights back on in East Texas after the 2008 hurricane.

7. Concern for Community. While focusing on member needs, cooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies accepted by their members.