New Directions

Featured New Co-operatives:

Featured Innovations in Existing Co-operatives:

The current international business and social service climate is permeated with the need for new paths and unique solutions. Global environmental difficulties, the persistence of conflicts, and increasing levels of poverty point towards the need for two overarching principles of social engagement: cooperation and innovation.

Not surprisingly, co-operatives, characterized by their lateral inclusive structure, promote participation across traditional boundaries. Many of these co-operatives are turning out new and exciting strategies and innovations. Also, many new co-operatives are being generated: conglomerates of diverse individuals coming together to bring new ideas to life, or communities establishing new frameworks to met their changing needs.

The first part of this section present some of the innovations that are transforming existing co-operatives, while the second page will be dedicated to showcasing new and exciting co-operatives.

New Co-operatives

Pillar Insurance Ltd.

The United Farmers Co-operative was established in 1915 and has continued, albeit not in its original form, until the present day. In 2004 the co-op's revenues totaled just over $80 million and is comprised of 10,000 members, served by 100 full-time employees.

The cooperative benefits from a diversified business base in grain, feed, agronomy, petroleum, farm equipment and construction, and consumer goods.

Recent highlights of the Cooperatives service expansions include:

  • 1995 Developed Livestock Systems to Serve All Members - Built Local Demand for Corn
  • 1999 Developed Employee Owned and Controlled Health Insurance Program
  • 2000 Help to Pioneer Broadband Services for Rural America - Formed RTS Services
  • 2001 Developed Innovative Marketing Programs for Core Business - "A.C.R.E.S."
  • 2003 Led the Effort to Create a Member Owned Alternative Insurance Program - "Parthenon Risk Partners"

Indeed the creation of a member owned alternative insurance program is not only the most recent innovation, but also one of timely importance.

For farmers in America , Agri-Business Insurance premiums have increased over 100% in the past 4 policy renewals. At the same time the number of insurance providers has dropped in half from 8 to four.

At their peak 775 Cooperatives were paying over $700 million in premiums, a situation that sparked the United Farmers Cooperative to look for a home grown option.

Being that members in cooperatives share equal stake and thus equal risk in business ventures nothing made more sense than a collaborative approach to insurance coverage.

With this philosophy in mind, "Pillar Insurance Ltd" was introduced in March 2004.

Currently the cooperative has 23 members and boasts a $6.0 Million in P & C Premium, a $1.5 Million in Workers Compensation Premium and a $1.0 Million in Umbrella Premium.

Exactly Who Formed Pillar Insurance?

  • In January 1993, a group of cooperatives took control of their workers compensation needs and started a self insurance company: Access Insurance Association.
  • Today, in its 12 th year of operation, Access has grown from 8 Members to 36 Members
  • At their annual meeting in 2003, the Members of Access decided to look at the feasibility of self insurance for their property and casualty needs
  • After a year of the initial feasibility and start up, Pillar Insurance was incorporated in March of 2004 and started operations July1 st , 2004 with 23 founding member co-ops.

What is Pillar Insurance Ltd.?

  • A captive reinsurance company to the fronting company or CWIC
  • Domiciled in the Cayman Islands (lower capital requirements, taxation, expertise)
  • Similar to a cooperative
  • Members of common business band together to share risk in return for increased efficiencies, underwriting profits and investment profits
  • Controlled by the Membership who elects a Board of Directors from the Membership
  • Board of Directors hires management and other vendors for operations
  • One Member - One Vote
  • Profits and Losses are allocated and distributed based on amount business (premiums) and loss history of each Member
  • Tax treatment of profits - Option of Qualified or Non-Qualified

Touchstone Energy

  • Is an alliance of more than600 cooperatives in44 states that collectively deliver power and energy solutions to more than 17 million customers everyday.
  • Provides high standards of service to all customers - residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural.
  • Is a branding initiative that communicates electric cooperatives' unique characteristics in a changing marketplace where these values and differences matter more each day.
  • Emphasizes the significance of each electric cooperative's local presence and unique ties to its community, but offers the resources of a nationwide network to bring added value and benefit to customers.

About Electric Cooperatives

Electric cooperatives are:

  • private independent electric utility businesses
  • incorporated under the laws of the states in which they operate
  • established to provide at-cost electric service
  • owned by the consumers they serve
  • governed by a board of directors elected from the membership, which sets policies and procedures that are implemented by the cooperatives' professional staff

Most electric co-ops are distribution cooperatives that deliver electricity to the consumer. Some are generation and transmission cooperatives (G&Ts) that both generate and transmit electricity to meet the power needs of distribution co-ops.

In addition to electric service, many electric co-ops are involved in community development and revitalization projects, e.g., small business development and jobs creation, improvement of water and sewer systems, and assistance in delivery of health care and educational services.

What Makes Energy Cooperatives Different?

Cooperatives are operated to provide at-cost electric service to their consumer-owners. On the other hand, investor-owned utilities are operated to maximize profit for the shareholders. A co-op's net margin above expenses and reserves does not belong to the utility; it belongs to the individual consumer-owners of the co-op. The margins must either be used to improve or maintain operations or be distributed to the co-op's consumer-owners.

Touchstone Energy cooperatives set high customer-focused standards to ensure their customers are getting the reliable, world-class service that only consumer-owned utilities can provide.

Commitment to Communities

Touchstone Energy cooperatives demonstrate their commitment to communities in a variety of ways. Here's just a sampling of projects from across the country:

  • Touchstone Energy cooperatives of Minnesota worked with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to create Project GreenTouch. During the three-year project, co-op employees and directors are donating their time to spruce up state parks by planting seedlings, upgrading electric services, painting, clearing trails and trimming trees. Their financial support assists with the production of a state park guidebook, the construction of new information kiosks and the continuation of the Junior Park Naturalist Program.
  • During the last three years, Arizona Touchstone Energy cooperatives have raised close to $2 million for youth charities by sponsoring the Touchstone Energy Tucson Open and the El Tour de Tucson bike race. They also demonstrate their commitment to community by supporting Kartchner Caverns State Park .
  • At every appearance of the Touchstone Energy Hot Air Balloon, a monetary contribution is made to a local charity on behalf of the sponsoring cooperatives.
  • Great River Energy in Elk River , MN , sponsored the Touchstone Energy Bicycle Festival to benefit Camp Heartland - a national nonprofit organization that enhances the lives of children infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS through year-round support, advocacy, recreational programs and community AIDS awareness efforts.

Island Empire Utilities Agency

Island Empire Utilities Agency (IEUA) is a public water and wastewater utility located in the Chirio Basin in Southern California.

IEUA provides services for 6 cities and 2 water districts serving about 700,000 people through the operation of 4 wastewater treatment plants (55 million gallons per day) and co-composting facility for dairy manure and biosolids (200,000-tones per year) Additionally, IEUA produces 170 Tons of Class A & B biosolids per day and 70,000 acre-feet per year of high quality recycled water.

IEAU operates in the Chino Groundwater Basin , a 220 square mile areas with a water storage capacity of 5-7 million acre-feet: The basin is an integral fresh water resource for over 1 million people.

And yet, the area is home to a $1 Billion Dairy Industry whose waste has a dramatic impact upon the water quality of the region.

In response, IEUA has developed a diverse and innovative strategy to recycle dairy industry by-products into valuable inputs to be reinvested in the productive system, simultaneously increasing the value of dairy production and reducing its negative ecological impacts:

  • Dairy Manure Management - Phase 1 Pilot Projects
    Designed to serve multiple dairies, (7 daries, 6,250 cows, 136,875 tons per year, 375 tons per day), this project will move forward by developing Private Public Partnerships with federal, state and local government.

Adapted from a presentation by Martha Davis, Executive Manager for Policy Development Island Empire Utilities Agency, at the Seventh Annual Farmer Cooperatives Conference November 1-2, 2004 Kansas City, Missouri

Featured Innovations in Existing Co-operatives

Mental Health Cooperative (MHC)

The Mental Health Cooperative is a mental health agency that incorporates intensive case management, psychiatric/clinic services and 24 hour emergency psychiatric services into an integrated system of care. There services assist children and adults who have a serious mental illness to live successful and satisfying lives in the community and recover from the devastating effects of the illness.

Services are delivered through a multi-disciplinary team consisting of case managers, a team supervisor, psychiatrist, advanced practice nurse, and nurse. Services are tailored to meet the unique needs of each individual by focusing on the achievement of personal goals while helping the individual gain control over his or her symptoms.

The Mental Health Cooperative, Inc. assists persons with a serious and persistent mental illness live successfully in their environments of choice with the least amount of professional intervention possible. They help individuals achieve success and satisfaction in their living, learning, working and social roles so that each can live productively outside the formal mental health system. They focus on recovery from the catastrophic consequences of mental illness so that, even when symptoms persist, mental illness does not have to be the central focus of the individual's life. They promote involvement of family members and friends in the individual's recovery.

There is life after diagnosis!

In June of 2002 the Mental Health Cooperative adopted a new integrative information management system using innovative software from the Pivotal Corporation. Using Pivotal, MHC will streamline the management of consumer, employee and provider relationships to create a more responsive and accountable agency. The Pivotal software will be implemented in partnership with BlueWing Inc., a leading healthcare solutions provider and technology consultant.

The Mental Health Cooperative employs more than 300 doctors, nurses, pharmacists, case managers and corporate administrators that work together to meet a wide variety of consumer needs. Prior to Pivotal, MHC stored consumer information in multiple databases across the agency creating massive amounts of paper work, higher operational costs and inefficiencies in cross-functional communication. Using Pivotal, MHC will streamline its operational efficiencies by creating a single, comprehensive view of the consumer.

Every employee at MHC will be empowered with real-time access to consumer information based upon stringent security rights. With a centralized system, employees can quickly access comprehensive consumer records pertinent to their role. For example, doctors at MHC will be able to view a consumers complete mental health history including behavioural changes, treatment plans, prescribed medications and reactions /side effects, event triggers and a list of all providers who have participated in the treatment of the consumer. Leveraging this information, MHC can offer consumers better treatment, greater care and improved strategies for managing their lives.

In addition to improving operational efficiencies, MHC will also be able to improve human resource efficiencies by moving the current paper-based system online. Human resources is a vital component of MHC, as the department is responsible for managing a rigorous credentialing process and continuous training efforts to keep physician licensing and clinician credentials current. By moving employee records online, human resources will be empowered with the ability to run comprehensive queries to quickly identify employees needing additional instruction to meet the certification requirements of the state board.

Mental Health Cooperative is taking technology and innovation to the next level and doing so to improve business efficiencies, decrease costs and deliver the highest quality of care to its consumers and members.