ACE Hardware, State Farm, REI, Land O’Lakes, Tennessee Farmers Cooperative and Southwest Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation all share something in common: We’re all cooperatives.
We may be in different industries, but we all share a passion for serving our members and helping our communities to thrive. In fact, all cooperatives adhere to the same set of seven principles that reflect our core values of honesty, transparency, inclusiveness and service to the greater community good. October is National Co-op Month, so this is the perfect time to reflect on these principles that have stood the test of time but also provide a framework for the future. Let’s take a look at the four cooperative principles.
‘Voluntary and Open Membership’
Just like all co-ops, STEMC was created out of necessity — to meet a need that would have been otherwise unmet in our community. So in 1936, a group of neighbors banded together and organized our electric co-op so everyone in our community could benefit. For a modest $5 membership fee to the co-op, any farmer could get electricity brought to his farm. Neighbors came together to tackle a problem they all had but couldn’t solve alone. They worked together for the benefit of the whole community, and the newly established electric lines helped power economic opportunity in our community.
While this history may be forgotten, key parts of that heritage remain — the focus on our mission and serving the greater good. In this, we include everyone to improve the quality of life and economic opportunity for the entire community. Membership is open to everyone in our service territory.
‘Democratic Member Control’
Our co-op is well suited to meet the needs of our members because we are locally governed. Each member gets a voice and a vote in how the co-op is run, and each voice and vote is equal. STEMC’s leadership team and employees live right here in the community. Members of our board of directors, who help set long-term priorities for the co-op, also live locally on co-op lines. These board members have been elected by neighbors just like you. We know our members have a valuable perspective, and that’s why we are continually seeking your input and encourage you to weigh in on important co-op issues and participate in co-op elections.
Our close connection to this community ensures we get a first-hand perspective on members’ priorities, thereby enabling us to make more informed decisions on long-term investments such as high-speed broadband.
‘Members’ Economic Participation’
As a utility, our mission is to provide safe, reliable and affordable energy to our members. But as a co-op, we are also motivated by service to the community, rather than profits. Members contribute equitably to and democratically control the capital of STEMC.
Because we are guided by seven cooperative principles, it’s not just about dollars — it’s about opportunity for all and being fair when engaging with our members. The cooperative way is a values-based business model.
‘Concern for Community’
STEMC is a reflection of our local community and its changing needs. We view our role as a catalyst for good and making our corner of the world a better place. And, by the way, that sums up the seventh co-op principle, “Concern for Community.”
One of the big ways we fulfill the seventh principle, is through our charity round-up program called Southwest Members Care. Because of generous members like you and your neighbors, more than 80 organizations in our service area have received grants to make our community a better place to live.
Many fire departments from Henderson County to Tipton County have received grants to purchase lifesaving equipment like AEDs and jaws of life. Several food banks have been given grants to provide food for members of our community. Libraries have been able to purchase materials and equipment to help educate our local children and adults. Money has been given to organizations to provide services for children and adults in crisis.
The cooperative business model spans many different industries, yet we all share a passion for serving our communities. We all also strive to adhere to the same set of seven principles in order to reflect co-op values.