Tuesday, 05 October 2010 01:18
By Alexis Alexander,
October is National Co-op Month, a time to celebrate the contributions of our nation’s co-ops. When I consider the positive influence cooperatives have on society, I’m reminded of the Seven Cooperative Principles. These principles are central to the operations of co-ops worldwide since they represent the core values that are recognized and adhered to by all cooperatives.
In the spirit of Co-op Month, I’d like to review the Seven Cooperative Principles to highlight how truly different the values-driven nature of cooperatives is relative to profit-driven corporate America. For this month’s column, we’ll review Principles #1 through #3. Next month we’ll complete our review with Principles #4 through #7.
Principle #1: Voluntary & Open Membership. Co-ops are open to all people willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.
Simply stated, since the beginning, any adult could join GreenStar. This year, we took a significant step in further broadening our open membership philosophy. Our recently launched FLOWER discount program improves access to member-ownership for low-income individuals who qualify for certain government assistance programs, in turn, helping GreenStar to further diversify our Co-op across the economic strata of our community.
Principle #2: Democratic Member Control. Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members; the people who buy the goods and use the services of the co-op own and control the co-op.
As member-owners, we actively participate in decision-making through a democratic voting process. Every GreenStar member-owner is eligible to vote in Council elections, on member-sponsored referendums and on policy matters that require a membership vote, as outlined in our bylaws. Unlike corporations where the number of votes is based on how much money people invest, every member-owner at GreenStar has an equal voting share, so no one’s vote counts more than another’s.
This month’s bylaws vote is an excellent example of the power of member-ownership. The bylaws define the democratic and organizational structure of our Co-op. This month, as member-owners, we have the opportunity to vote on proposed changes to these bylaws, changes that will directly influence how our Co-op is run in years to come.
Principle #3: Members’ Economic Participation. Member-owners contribute equally to, and democratically control, the capital of the cooperative. Member-owners benefit in proportion to the business they conduct with the cooperative rather than on the capital invested.
Every GreenStar member-owner pays a $90 equity share. No one member-owner invests more than another. We all have an equal stake in the Co-op! The financial benefit a member-owner receives through our discount structure is directly related to how much they shop at the store. The more groceries a member-owner purchases at GreenStar, the greater the financial benefit he or she will receive.
When GreenStar member-owners voted this past spring on expansion, it was in the membership’s power to direct Council and Management to purchase, or not purchase, the property at 701 W. Buffalo Street. This is just one example of how our membership democratically controls the capital of the Co-op. Council is currently discussing potential changes to the Co-op’s equity structure. However, it will be the membership at large who cast the final vote on whether or not we make the changes to how we collect capital from and distribute our earnings to member-owners.
Stay tuned next month, when we bring you Principles #4 though #7. For more information on the Cooperative Principles, visit the International Co-operative Alliance website at www.ica.coop .