A Winning RBI 

by Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Editor

Richard Johnstone
Richard Johnstone

As a kid, my favorite movie form was Westerns, so it’s hardly surprising that one of my favorite flicks was “The Magnificent Seven.” After all, who could resist the music, that stirring theme by Elmer

Bernstein that later became the “Marlboro Man’s” signature soundtrack. Or how about the plot, featuring a village of innocent Mexican peasants seeking out hired guns —from jaded veterans to a kid seeking to make a name — to protect them from an army of (seemingly hundreds of) bandits that regularly steal their food and what little money they have. Or how about the talented cast, with Yul Brynner at the top of his game, joined by rising stars Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and James Coburn, with Eli Wallach as the beady-eyed bandit boss. 

In math and mythology, world history and wonders, and expressions of faith and good fortune, seven is a number with power and influence. There’s the seventh day of the week, seventh heaven, the Seven Wonders of the World, the Seven Years’ War, the seven seas and seven-up, both the card game and the un-cola. So the 1960 Western movie, and the Japanese movie  “The Seven Samurai” that inspired it, were following in some pretty potent word steps when they featured seven heroes, rather than, say, The

Magnificent Eight, or The Five Samurai.

So whether it was intentional or coincidental, early cooperative leaders picked a powerful number when the foundational principles of our member-owned businesses totaled seven. The group of weavers who formed the first modern cooperative in England in the 1840s could scarcely have realized that they were launching a revolution that would see thousands of cooperatives formed across the globe.

These English artisans were simply working together to market their products more efficiently. They could hardly have known that they were establishing a model that would provide hundreds of millions of people with the cost-saving, time-saving, quality-enhancing benefits that come from working cooperatively with others to acquire products and services that are not being provided affordably, or at all.

Of course, as we mention frequently in these pages, rural citizens of Virginia formed more than a dozen cooperatives across the Commonwealth in the 1930s and ’40s to provide themselves with the electric service that those in the cities had enjoyed for two or three decades. And at the very core of everything that we as cooperatives do are the Seven Cooperative Principles, touchstones that helped guide our founding in the midst of the Great Depression, and that guide our business decisions three generations later, in a very different world.

Every October, cooperatives of every sort — credit unions, farm credit cooperatives, and cooperatives that manufacture or market virtually any product imaginable —join with electric cooperatives to celebrate Cooperative Month. It’s a good time to outline for you, our member-owners, the principles that guide your business.

Voluntary and Open Membership. Cooperatives are open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership.

Democratic Member Control.

Cooperatives are democratic organizations, owned by those they serve. Their member-owners set policies and make decisions about the business through a democratically elected board of directors, chosen from the cooperative membership. Each member —large or small — has an equal vote, the sign of a true democracy.

Autonomy and Independence.

Cooperatives are autonomous, independent self-help organizations controlled by their members. Because of local ownership and control, cooperatives are among the most customer-friendly businesses anywhere.

Cooperation Among Cooperatives. Cooperatives practice what they preach, and work together with other cooperatives at a state, regional and national level, to gain additional strength and influence and buying power. For instance, Virginia’s electric cooperatives work together and publish this magazine, at a higher quality level and a lower cost than any individual cooperative would be able to do on its own.

Education, Training and Information. As member-owned and member-controlled businesses, cooperatives obviously have an obligation to keep their members informed about issues that affect the cooperative. Cooperatives work hard to be open, honest, and communicative.

Members’ Economic Participation.

All cooperative members have an economic stake in the business, as customers and as member-owners. Cooperatives operate on a not-for-profit basis, and any funds left over are assigned to the members as capital credits, and later returned to the members as the economic condition of the cooperative allows.

Concern for Community.

This last principle is the gem in the cooperative crown. Cooperatives care — deeply — about their communities. A business doesn’t get any more “local” than an electric cooperative, which is owned by thousands of members of a local community, staffed by local people, and governed by a board of local people, democratically elected by their neighbors.

So there you have it. Our “Magnificent Seven.” It may not be as entertaining as the one I enjoyed as a kid and still enjoy watching today. But then again, reliable electric service at a reasonable price isn’t entertainment. It’s a necessary service that you expect, and that local people deliver, every day of the week, including number seven.



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