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CO - OP LIVI NG


n of member-owned businesses during the of Cooperatives 2012


Building a better world The IYC 2012 theme, “Coopera- tive Enterprises Build a Better World,” embodies NRECA International Programs, a division of NRECA that celebrates its golden an- niversary this year. Since its creation in November 1962, NRECA Interna- tional Programs has as- sisted with electrifi cation endeavors that have result- ed in increased agricultural output, millions of new jobs,


as well as an enhanced quality of life for more than 100 mil- lion people in 40-plus nations. NRECA International Programs projects are currently under way in


Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda. Despite progress, much work remains.


“More than 2 billion people worldwide still lack electricity and millions more must depend on unreliable and unsafe power,” emphasizes Ingrid Hunsicker, manager of international program devel- opment for the NRECA International Foundation, a charitable organization that has partnered with more than 300 electric cooperatives in the United States to bring power and economic development to rural villages overseas. “In many countries, tra- ditions of self-help, self-government, and joining together to achieve a common goal don’t exist. A dismaying array of fi nancial problems, such as a lack of investment capital and little understanding of even the most basic accounting procedures, throw up even more barriers.” Because circumstances vary so widely, NRECA International Programs has adopted the slogan, “Electrifying the world, one village at a time.” Out- reach relies on the time-tested electric cooperative approach—giving individuals, many for the fi rst time, practical experience in democratic decision-


making and entrepreneurship so they can launch locally driven services. “By aggregating small stakeholders into large- enough units to compete, cooperatives expand the critical, people-to-people relationships required to break down mistrust,” Hunsicker asserts. In many cases, volunteer electric co-op lineworkers from the United States head to distant lands for a few weeks to teach their peers safe construction practices. Then NRECA staff instructs local resi- dents on how to maintain simple power grids and run their own utilities. “We’re sharing knowledge about best techniques on a person-to-person basis,” says Chris Stephens, vice president of engineering at Palmetto, Ga.-based Coweta-Fayette Electric Membership Corporation, who assisted with an electrifi cation undertaking in Ixcan, Guatemala. “Even though we may speak a different language, we all speak the same work.” “One of the challenges we face in many countries is building a rural business culture,” indicates Hunsicker. “When electric cooperative employees and volunteers arrive, they outline how to create a business plan, how to conduct meetings, how to collect the full amount due from consumers, what type of electric generation system to invest in, and everything in between. It’s all about discovering and building on what works. Best of all, we show the best face of not only who we are as co-ops but who we are as Americans.” While NRECA International Programs does not limit help to co-ops—municipal electric systems benefi t, too—many foreign communities embrace the cooperative way. Argentina boasts the largest number of electric co-ops—nearly 800—outside of the United States, while Cooperativa Rural de Electrifi cacion in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, serves more than 400,000 members, ranking it as the largest electric cooperative anywhere. The Philippines has 119 electric co-ops, Bangladesh 72, and the imprint of cooperation can also be seen in Costa Rica, South Sudan, Uganda, and other countries.


Spreading the cheese


“Cooperation Among Cooperatives,” one of the seven cooperative principles, delivers great results.


cooperatively


“Twenty years ago, as a new brand, we had absolutely nothing—we relied on electric cooperatives and credit unions to let us piggyback on their annual meetings for advertising purposes,” attests Roberta MacDonald, senior vice president of marketing with Montpelier, Vt.-based Cabot Creamery Cooperative. Flash forward to today and the farmer-owned


dairy co-op sold 8 million pounds of cheddar, in addition to a host of other merchandise, in 2011— enough cheese, butter, whipped cream, and other items to crisscross the nation more than three times. “By working with electric co-ops and others we


were able to remind co-op members that when they bought Cabot products, they were supporting another co-op,” MacDonald comments, recount- ing trips made in the late 1980s and early 1990s to electric co-op annual meetings in southeastern states. “Spreading the word among different co- ops helped us fl ourish. Electric cooperatives in Tennessee even invited me back repeatedly because our message also underscored the importance of co-ops working together.” Unlike electric cooperatives, which are owned by members—consumers—who receive electricity, dairy producers own Cabot Creamery. Through the co- op, more than 1,200 farm operations across New England and upstate New York are guaranteed a market and fair prices.


“Our farmers are so proud to own the brand,” MacDonald smiles. “They wear T-shirts with the slogan, ‘I’m a farmer, I’m an owner.’” For IYC 2012, Cabot Creamery will orchestrate a 2,300-mile cooperative ride, walk, and bike tour across 15 eastern states. Eight major community events held between May 12 and July 7 will bring electric cooperatives, agricultural co-ops, credit unions, and others together to help connect the public with local cooperatives.


Group studies


Some electric co-ops are already sponsoring joint cooperative initiatives. For nearly three decades electric cooperatives in the Yellowhammer State have linked arms with the Alabama Council of Cooperatives to hold a three-day, statewide youth leadership conference, called Co-op Boot Camp, for more than 50 high school students.


Continued on page 14 JANUARY 2012 7


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