Co-operatives started out as small grassroots organizations in Western Europe, North America and Japan. The oldest co-operative on record is the Fenwick Weaver’s Society, which organized in 1761 in Fenwick Scotland.
However, the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers is regarded as the prototype & founders of the modern co-operative movement. In 1844 a group of 28 artisans working in the cotton mills in the town of Rochdale, in the north of England established the first modern co-operative business, the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society.
The weavers faced miserable working conditions and low wages, and they could not afford the high prices of food and household goods. They decided that by pooling their scarce resources and working together they could access basic goods at a lower price. Initially, there were only four items for sale: flour, oatmeal, sugar and butter.
The Pioneers decided it was time shoppers were treated with honesty, openness and respect, that they should be able to share in the profits that their custom contributed to and that they should have a democratic right to have a say in the business. Every customer of the shop became a member and so had a true stake in the business. At first the co-op was open for only two nights a week, but within three months, business had grown so much that it was open five days a week.
The Seven Co-operative Principles that underpinned their way of doing business are still accepted today as the foundations upon which all co-operatives operate. These principles have been revised and updated, but remain essentially the same as those practiced in 1844.
(Written with information provided courtesy of the International Co-operative Alliance.)
NC Credit Union History
John Sprunt Hill, the “Father of Rural Credit” helped to organize the first credit union in Durham County in 1916. The Lowe’s Grove Credit Union was chartered by 20 farmers who combined to deposit $101.75 to get the credit union started.
Farmers were a natural fit for credit unions in NC. Money was tight and access to credit was hard to come by after the Civil War. As a result, many farmers would have to borrow money to pay today’s bills using as yet un-harvested crops as collateral (the crop-lien system). The crop-lien system was causing many to quit farming and get a job in the mills that were popping up in NC.
Over time, credit unions spread to businesses including mills and factories, postal facilities and telephone companies. In recent years, credit union membership rules have changed to allow more people to join.
Today, there are 95 credit unions in NC that serve 3.3 million residents of NC. Despite this incredible growth from humble beginnings, credit unions still exist to serve.
The Seven Co-operative Principles
Credit unions operate using Seven Co-operative Principles:
- Voluntary and open membership – no discrimination.
- Democratic member control – one vote per member.
- Member economic participation – the more you use the cooperative, the more you benefit.
- Autonomy and independence – credit union members elect board members who set policy.
- Education, training, and information – credit unions provide financial education.
- Cooperation among cooperatives – credit unions work together to improve services and build sustainable communities.
- Concern for community – since they are local, credit unions invest in your community.
For more information on the Seven Cooperative Principles, please visit the International Co-operative Alliance’s web site.