Specific months have long been set aside to draw attention to or commemorate causes, products or areas of focus. I’m not sure whose job it is to actually decide these things, but it can be a helpful way for us to pause and recall the importance of maintaining awareness of various issues.
There are, of course, extremely worthwhile topics of which to be mindful. There’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Black History Month and National Foster Care Month. And then there are slightly less noteworthy observances with months set aside to call attention to things like celery, model railroading and bird feeding. It’s interesting to see how different states step up to observe and honor different causes and products: California has set aside a month to tout the role “dried plums” (prunes, the last time I checked) play in digestive health, while our own state of Tennessee has proclaimed the month of January as Be Kind to Food Servers Month.
I’m proud to be able to share with you that October is “Co-op Month.” (Although, in my opinion, a period of 31 days is not nearly long enough to recognize and celebrate all the ways co-ops make our lives better.) This designation attempts to draw attention to many different kinds of cooperatives, not just those that distribute electricity to their members. Along with Tennessee’s electric cooperatives, companies like ACE Hardware, State Farm, REI and Land O’ Lakes are in business to benefit those they serve. Like co-ops all across Tennessee (as well as our nation and even in other countries), they adhere to the same set of seven principles that we do.
An easy way to understand this is to think about what makes co-ops special — and different from the way other businesses and organizations are governed and operated. These seven core values that guide us and characterize our unique business model are:
- “Voluntary and open membership”
- “Democratic member control”
- “Member economic participation”
- “Autonomy and independence”
- “Education, training and information”
- “Cooperation among cooperatives”
- “Concern for community”
Taken together, these principles capture the things we work toward, care about and believe in. We are governed by those we serve and exist solely to benefit our members. We look beyond the profit motive that guides most businesses to operate, instead, for the greater good. The services we provide are available to all. We help each other during times of crisis. We are future-minded with an emphasis on remembering that what we do today will benefit generations to come. We look outward with an eye toward making the communities we serve stronger and better.
The Seven Cooperative Principles embody what we call “the cooperative difference.” They set us apart and make us who we are. And that, my friends, is something to celebrate.
So even though the official commemoration of Co-op Month is relegated to October, feel free to join me and all the other employees of Tennessee’s electric cooperatives in honoring the contributions we make to our communities throughout the entire year.