For 75 years in South Carolina, electric cooperatives have been in the business of education. It started with neighbors teaching neighbors how a cooperative works and how it could improve their lives by bringing electricity to their farms, homes and rural communities. It continues today with cutting-edge programs that educate future leaders about sustainable energy development.
It’s pretty intuitive that co-ops would educate employees about safety. We deal with some of the most dangerous workplace environments imaginable when power lines fall during violent weather. We train for that, but we also train in areas that may not be as intuitive, including the challenge of serving a population that’s quickly becoming polylingual.
We also educate our board members, our trustees. Most of them have other jobs that do not involve the generation and transmission of electricity. So, for us, it’s a matter of your cooperative equipping them to serve on a board where they can become member advocates in a way that’s meaningful to you. In fact, South Carolina cooperatives recently led the nation in training our trustees on how to guide members through the complex issues of solar generation. As financial stewards of their members’ investments, trustees also are trained to work with professional managers in order to carefully evaluate all business operations.
Employees are a cooperative’s most valuable asset. Our co-op managers ask for and receive training that empowers them to develop and enhance the value of that asset. Managers also are charged with making sure their systems are reliable. For that reason we make sure they are current on issues like cybersecurity, cyberterrorism and the impact of distributed energy resources.
We also educate elected officials. Co-ops have a long history of enlightening our representatives on matters that impact your ability to receive affordable and reliable electricity that is generated in an environmentally responsible manner.
The second cooperative principle of democratic member control would have very little meaning if cooperative members had to operate in an information vacuum. Cooperatives routinely publish in this magazine their financial reports, updates to operations and plans for the future. At each cooperative’s annual meeting, trustees and chief executive officers give reports on major challenges and accomplishments encountered by the cooperative within the last 12 months and frequently preview what’s lying ahead.
Cooperatives are different. Our shareholders and ratepayers are one and the same, and that difference is one that requires frequent educational reinforcement to the general public. We should always be willing to explain and defend our unique system of direct accountability to the members we serve. Our return on investment is not measured by the stock market but by the economic health of the communities we serve, and telling that story through education never gets old.
The Seven Cooperative Principles
1. Voluntary and open membership
2. Democratic member control
3. Members’ economic participation
4. Autonomy and independence
5. Education, training and information
6. Cooperation among cooperatives
7. Concern for community