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2012-03-08

2012 designated "International Year of Cooperatives"

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Electric cooperatives and other members of the co-op family take center stage globally in 2012, designated the International Year of Cooperatives.

The celebration began in October when US cooperatives traditionally celebrate National Cooperative Month.

The International Year of Cooperatives' theme, "Cooperative Enterprises Build a Better World," resonates with co-ops in the electric, banking, food, retail, housing, and marketing arenas.

"We're surrounded by a diverse mix of cooperatives," states Glenn English, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), the national service organization for more than 900 not-for-profit electric cooperatives and public power districts. "No matter what kind of co-op you belong to, two things are clear: we put people first, and we are innovators."

What are Co-ops?

Cooperatives are a global network of independent, local businesses owned by those they serve. "We share a common set of business principles and values like self-help and democracy," explains English. "Each co-op exists to meet the needs of its members."
According to the Washington, DC-based National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA), more than 29,200 cooperatives nationally employ 2 million Americans. One in every four Americans is a co-op member, but the scope of the cooperative network doesn't stop at the border.

"Co-ops are a major economic force in industrialized countries and provide a powerful business model for developing nations," notes Paul Hazen, NCBA president & CEO. More than 1 billion co-op members exist worldwide, and co-ops generate 100 million jobs globally. Cooperatives strive for sustainable development of communities through member-driven policies, with co-op leaders elected by members.

"As a member, you have a voice in how your co-op operates. That keeps the co-op's focus on you and how best to meet your needs," notes Robert D. Waid, CEO/GM of Bandera Electric Cooperative.

The innovative practices of co-ops provide consumer-focused solutions that can adapt quickly to change.

Unlike competitive, profit-driven businesses, co-ops cooperate with each other to fashion programs that improve service.

For example, food co-ops introduced food nutrition labels long before they were federally required in 1994.

Credit unions fought the predatory practices of payday lenders by introducing salary advance loans that double as savings accounts.

Electric cooperatives like Bandera Electric are leading the way nationally in deploying technologies that enhance service reliability, like automated metering infrastructure. These digital meters, which were installed in the last few years, allow system operators to better identify the location of outages - minimizing outage duration - and allow members to better monitor and manage their energy use - minimizing the impact of their monthly electric bill on their wallet.


"You can find co-ops for all walks of life," says Waid. "When people unite with a common goal, the co-op business model comes into play."