Local before local was cool

Autonomy & Independence: One of the Seven Cooperative Principles that give all co-ops guidance

Whether you travel across the country or prefer to stay close to your hometown, one thing you may be noticing is the emphasis on “Buy Local” campaigns. This is based on one simple fact: It’s important to support businesses that support our community.

The Small Business Administration and the research firm Civic Economics estimate that dollars spent at a locally owned business stay in the community more than three times longer than money spent at “Big Box” stores, headquartered far away from your hometown. This means your community wealth is more likely to grow by shopping locally.

Consumer cooperatives, like Tennessee’s electric cooperatives, have known this forever. We were formed in the 1930s by people across the state to serve the people that work, worship and live in this community.

A common expression among cooperators is, “If you’ve seen one co-op, you’ve seen one co-op.”  While there are many similarities between co-ops, the fact that we are controlled locally, allowing us to serve your needs, is a critically important principle.

The fourth of our Seven Cooperative Principles is: Autonomy and Independence. And that is defined as follows: Cooperatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If the co-op enters into agreements with other organizations or raises capital from external sources, it is done so based on terms that ensure democratic control by the members and maintain the cooperative’s autonomy.

This will allow us to continue to be the self-help organization envisioned by the founders of the modern cooperative movement.

In other words, for the co-op to stay a co-op it is vitally important we stay close to you, our members, to ensure we are continuing to respond to your needs. This could be through increasing energy-efficiency programs, offering renewable sources of energy and continuing our efforts to support other local businesses, schools and civic organizations.

You can be sure that electric cooperatives will not be moving operations to Mexico or China, as so many other corporations do. We began right here in Tennessee, and we plan on being here for a very long time. You can take that to the bank, or better yet, the credit union – as all credit unions are financial cooperatives. As always, we welcome your participation and suggestions about how we can improve our locally owned and controlled services.

Adam Schwartz is the founder of The Cooperative Way a consulting firm that helps co-ops succeed.  He is an author, speaker and a member-owner of the CDS Consulting Co-op.  You can follow him on Twitter @adamcooperative or email him at aschwartz@thecooperativeway.coop

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