Cooperation Among Cooperatives
The Sixth Principle is known as Cooperation Among Cooperatives. The full statement reads: "Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional, and international structures."
To the mainstream business-person this principle could seem confusing or even downright anti-business! After all, business dogma views competition for profit as the driving force for excellence. But in cooperative business profit is a means, not an end. The goal of cooperative business is the satisfaction of the needs and desires of the member-owners, who are also the main customers of the co-op. Since the business is a cycle, cooperatives don't aim to take customers from each other!
The brief 7th Principle statement makes it clear that cooperation is about unity. Just as member-owners form cooperatives to achieve common goals, cooperatives themselves join forces. Through national organizations such as the National Co-op Business Association, co-ops lobby Congress for laws that are favorable to cooperatives and credit unions (financial co-ops). Through the Consumer Co-op Management Association, retail food co-ops share experience and educate managers, directors and staff.
In Minneapolis, a trade group called Twin Cities Natural Food Co-ops strengthens the presence of cooperatives in the metro marketplace. The presidents of the boards of directors meet regularly, as do managers and member services staff from each of the stores.
In addition, a group calling itself New Visions, New Ventures meets monthly in the metro area. This group is loosely composed of representatives from the natural food co-ops, credit unions, housing co-ops, mutual insurance companies, a retail office supply co-op, North Country Development Fund, Land O'Lakes/Cenex, the Cooperative Foundation, as well as the occasional electric cooperative. By getting to know each other and learning about each other's business and vision, these organizations are laying a foundation for future action that will further the goal of expanding cooperative business.
To some in the natural food co-ops, this principle appears slightly in opposition to assumptions often made in the formative years of our movement (early 1970's). Then, the philosophy of "small is beautiful" was interpreted to mean that co-ops should be small both in floor-space and in aspirations. Nothing could be further from the spirit of the original cooperative pioneers over 150 years ago! Working together makes us stronger, increases our buying power and keeps our businesses stable.
By recognizing that we are more alike than different and that we share a vision of community control over our economic destiny, we can accept the differences between us without feeling divisive. Co-ops joining together to get better deals, eliminate duplicate costs, expand services to members and strengthen the movement as a whole -- these are just a few benefits that come from following the sixth principle.
Cooperative Education Column for Co-op Consumer News Nov/Dec 1996
Member Services Director, Wedge Community Co-op