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Cooperative enterprises building a better world

In celebration of the cooperative model, each year Today’s Farmer prints the winning speech from the Missouri Institute of Cooperative’s annual meeting. This year’s winner was Heather Hingst of Hermann, Mo. Heather is the daughter of Arthur and Sandra Hingst. Her FFA advisors are Douglas Ridder and Tracy Vedder.

Heather hopes to attend Missouri College of Science and Technology where she plans to major in Geology.

The Serengeti Plains of Africa, one of the most trying environments in the world, may be the last place on Earth where you would expect to find a cooperative. Yet even in this most desolate of places, the cooperative way of life is present and strong. The members of a cooperative there work together to stay alive in harsh conditions. They help each other gather food and protect each other from those who are out to do them harm. These cooperative members, along with cooperative enterprises from other continents, are working together to build a better world.

Cooperatives from all across the globe are guided by seven principles that are outlined by the International Cooperative Alliance. These principles are: 1) voluntary and open membership; 2) democratic member control; 3) members’ economic participation; 4) autonomy and independence; 5) education, training and information; 6) cooperation among cooperatives; and 7) concern for the community.

By adhering to these seven principles, cooperatives are organizations that truly work for the people. Through voluntary and open membership, anyone is able to be a part of a co-op, regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity.

As a part of a co-op, everyone has a say in the use of their money and resources. Every member has an equal vote in the election of their representatives, and as a result, a form of democratic member control.

One of the traits of a cooperative that sets it apart from other organizations is the way capital is distributed. In many co-ops, at the end of the year, after all accounts are made and expenses paid, excess money is allocated back to the members. To give an example, the Three Rivers Electric Cooperative sends a check to its members at the end of every year—if there is a surplus. The amount that the members receive is based upon the amount of money that they spent on electricity and other services that year. Through their participation in the cooperative, the members reap the benefits of their membership.

The fourth trait, autonomy and independence, is very similar to democratic member control. This trait states that, “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.” By adhering to this principle, a cooperative ensures that the decisions are made in the best interest of the members.

Education, training and information, the fifth trait, may deliver the most influence in the areas the cooperative does business. This trait calls for a co-op to be a prevalent part of the community. This principle ensures that members are provided with information about their co-op, and it also gives the community a chance to learn about the cooperative way of life. Many cooperatives have contests for students in their area to further their knowledge of the workings of a cooperative.

For example, the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives annually sends anywhere from 30 to 80 high school seniors to the Cooperative Youth Conference and Leadership Experience, or CYCLE. For three days, seniors from around the state travel to Jefferson City to learn more about Electric Cooperatives, Missouri government, and leadership skills.

Other contests, such as the Build Your Own Cooperative Contest, are fun and interactive ways that cooperatives inform the people about how cooperatives serve their members, and the community.

Another way that cooperatives actively serve their members is shown in the sixth principle, cooperation among cooperatives. Cooperatives do not just work on a local level, they have national, regional and international structures that strengthen the cooperative movement. Through organizations such as the National Cooperative Business Association, International Cooperative Alliance and the Missouri Institute of Cooperatives, members and co-ops gain additional support and find more ways to participate in multiple communities.

The final, but possibly the most important principle is concern for the community. By caring for the community, and not just the interest of the members, cooperatives are laying the foundation for a better tomorrow. It starts small, just a few people joining together to accomplish a goal, then it grows. Money is made, but rather than placing the money into the pockets of the few privileged people at the top of the corporate ladder, the money is divided and given to those who put forth the effort.

Gradually, through cooperation and hard work, more money is made and given back, more people join together until you have a strong cooperative that can hold its own against business giants that focused only on profit.

By being a member of a cooperative, you lay the foundation for a better, more giving tomorrow. Yes, the Serengeti Plains of Africa, one of the most trying environments in the world, may be the last place on Earth where one would expect to find a cooperative. Though, this cooperative is not quite what you would expect. Rather than be made up of humans, this particular cooperative is made up of zebras, wildebeests, and the occasional gazelle. These animals have been known to roam in vast herds together. Even though they are not the same species, and even though they lack opposable thumbs, they still work together for the common goal—survival.

The wildebeest and zebras travel together to protect each other from prowling lions and cheetahs. Each species contributes something to the group that increases the overall chance of survival. The zebras are the early warning system for the wildebeests, and the wildebeests distract the lions from the zebras. By working together, these creatures reap the benefits of their partnership.

Today’s business world is full of “lions,” just waiting to pounce upon local businesses. These lions may not have a mane, or even sharp claws, but they can pose a serious threat to smaller, local businesses. By being a part of a cooperative, members and businesses are better able to protect themselves from the hungry jaws of larger more corporate and bureaucratic industries. By working together, cooperatives help businesses become less of a meal, and more of a force to reckoned with. By working together, cooperative enterprises lay the foundation for building a better world.


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