University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives
Year in Cooperation: A Cooperative Development Magazine
Published by the Minnesota Association of Cooperatives
Spring 1996 -- Vol. 2 No. 2

Capturing the Spirit

by Mark Glaess, Manager, Minnesota Rural Electric Association

The General Assembly of the International Cooperative Alliance adopted a new cooperative principle in 1995 that points to the heart and soul of the utility and service cooperatives. It calls on cooperatives and their members to keep the needs of their communities in mind.

It's not a new concept. Indeed, it was the driving force for starting many of our cooperatives. It continues to be the driving force behind what we do. But the new ICA principle will also help keep us focused as we go forward.

Now, as cooperative members and leaders throughout the world stand up and pledge to provide service to their communities, it is appropriate to pause and ask ourselves how we are doing.

The new cooperative principle is at work in northeast Minnesota, as it is in Runestone territory, and as it is in the Wright-Hennepin territories of the Twin Cities metropolitan area.

Member economic participation is part of the community cooperative principle.

This was the intention of the rural electric cooperatives from the very beginning.

President Franklin Roosevelt declared in 1935 that he wanted the Rural Electrification program to be a social service agency. He liked the idea of electric cooperatives helping those most in need. While the co-ops have been a serious business throughout their history, they haven't lost sight of that earlier objective.

The REA is now called RUS, for Rural Utilities Service. It continues to be a financing agency working with local co-ops.

And members continue to do their part. One important way of providing assistance within their communities is through Operation Round Up. Members round up his or her electric bill to the next dollar. At an average of six dollars a year, co-op members can generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in assistance funds.

Red Lake Electric uses its Round Up dollars to assist community projects in the Red Lake Falls area. Stearns Electric sent money to the Jacob Wetterling Foundation. Agralite Cooperative helped purchase an ambulance to serve the Benson area. Wright-Hennepin donated money to assist the burn center at St.Paul-Ramsey Hospital.

More than 20 Minnesota cooperatives provide hundreds of thousands of dollars to help these members ad non-members alike. It recalls the biblical message, "As you have done to the least of them...," and it supports the cooperative principle of helping building communities for all residents.

As we pause to consider the new ICA principle, we note that 28 Minnesota cooperatives have provided close to $10 million towards creating jobs. Another 20 co-ops help fund charitable organizations. More than $100 million in capital credits have been returned to cooperative member-owners.

We are also reminded of a fundamental difference that separates the electric cooperative from other electric providers. We weren't formed strictly to make money for our investors by providing a necessary service. We were formed as cooperative business units to improve our members' quality of life... their quality of living.

We haven't lost sight of that purpose. The ICA principle will help keep that principle fresh in the minds of future generations of members.

Mark Glaess started his rural electric career as a legislative representative with the Nebraska Rural Electric Association in 1979. In 1985, he became the first full-time manager of the Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association.
In November 1991, Glaess was selected as the fourth manager in the 52-year history of the Minnesota Rural Electric Association. MREA represents 47 member-owned electric co-ops, serving 1.2 million consumers. MREA provides legislative representation, education courses, youth programs and loss control services. In June 1993, Glaess was elected president of the Rural Electric Stateside Manager's Association.

This material has been reproduced in electronic format with the permission of Year in Cooperation.

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