Through the dual vehicles of member-owner education and the Electric Co-operative Leadership Institute (ECLI), this commitment will enable community members to better direct policy decisions affecting their communitys economic security and growth.
Education of the co-operative membership regarding rights, roles, and responsibilities is essential if members are to understand the current practices of their co-operatives boards. This will be achieved by identifying a network of key stakeholders and community figures that can organize members and encourage greater participation in co-operative meetings and elections.
Co-operative members will also be tasked with selecting individuals, from within their community, to participate in ECLI. ECLI is a six-month program where participants from each co-operative will meet together once a month to cover topics such as understanding financial statements and budgets, business basics regarding running efficient and effective organizations, legal practices and best practices, mapping and strategy development, fundamentals of organizing, and new technologies. Curriculum and resources will correlate to the specific bylaws of the applicable co-operative in each area. The knowledge and information members will receive at ECLI meetings will serve as a springboard for cultivating board candidates and a cadre of informed community leaders.
While ECLI will educate a core group, local community partners will aid in outreach to educate the greater community. Membership education will expose members to a myriad of issues including: their roles and rights as member-owners, legal analysis of by-laws, financial and regulatory review of applicable standards, fundamentals of community organizing and best practice models.
Data collection will consist of voting rates by members and information pertaining to unfair practices (e.g. service disconnection during winter) and kilowatt charges across classes (i.e. residential, agricultural, industrial, demographic, and churches).
This commitment will directly impact 100 members from nine co-operatives across Mississippi and Alabama. Ultimately, co-op members will be equipped with a knowledge base that enhances their ability to play an active role in co-op governance.
Prior to the implementation of this campaign, research regarding the current landscape was conducted for over a year and a half. The project is informed by this research.
The project consists of four phases, all of which will be ongoing. The four phases are (1) research and data collection, (2) education, (3) negotiation, and (4) implementation/action.
Estimated Time of Completion (ETC): 3rd Qtr of 2016/ 3rd Qtr of 2017/ 3rd Qtr of 2018
-Minimum of 8 community convenings
-Community selection of ECLI participants
-Target specific class guides published and disseminated to ECLI members
-First class of ECLI started
-Three (3) sessions of ECLI conducted
-Completed street level mapping of target areas
-All financial data collection completed or requested by members
-All by-laws collected or requested by members
ETC: 4th Qtr of 2016/ 4th Qtr of 2017/4th Qtr of 2018
-Completed first class of ECLI
-Minimum of 8 community meetings around strategy development
-Minimum of 8 community meetings and organizing lead by ECLI participants
-Target specific timelines of upcoming elections
-Identification of potential board candidates by the community
ETC: 1st Qtr of 2017/1st Qtr 2018/1st Qtr 2019
-Research of changes to financial, regulatory, and community statistics
-Up to date data collection
-Technical support around community campaigns
ETC 2nd Qtr of 2017/2nd Qtr 2018/2nd Qtr 2019
-ECLI curriculum adjustments
-Metrics Evaluation (community partition)
-Evaluation of election results
-Technical support around community campaigns
The United States is home to 804 distribution co-operatives (co-ops) that deliver electricity to 42 million members in 47 states and 2,500 counties as part of the rural electric network established under the New Deal in the 1930s. These electric co-ops are not-for-profit entities that are designed to provide local economic benefit to their communities and are governed by democratic processes in which member-customers can participate, electing local boards that oversee co-op business operations.
According to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), 93 percent of the 353 persistent poverty counties in the U.S. are serviced by electric co-operatives. Mississippi has the highest concentration of persistent poverty counties in the nation and the average income of a Mississippian is 28 percent lower than the national average; many in Mississippi spend upwards of 42 percent of their income on electricity. As nearly half of the people in Mississippi receive their electricity from electric co-operatives this sizeable population lives in a state of income instability and economic insecurity. In addition, though Mississippis total population is 37 percent African American and 52 percent female, those same populations only have 6.6 percent and 4 percent electric co-operative board representation respectively. It should be noted, however, that all of the female board members are white. In Alabama, the disparity is more startling. According the U.S. Census, African-Americans compose 25 percent of Alabamas population and females compose 52 percent; yet, neither group has board representation.
Following historical racial patterns of inequality endemic to the South, members of Mississippi and Alabama electric co-op boards reflect populations that traditionally have held powerful positions and retained social capital often at the expense of minority and vulnerable populations. Non-democratic participation has resulted in communities plagued by surging electricity bills, declining job opportunities, languishing wages, and crumbling infrastructure. Co-ops were created to encourage and promote rural economic and community development, but many discourage organizational transparency and democratic participation.
For this project to be successful, financial resources, access to experts in appropriate fields, and the utilization of best practice models are markedly needed.
Within this project, assisting organizations will have access to proven leader development models, legal and financial analysis, strategy development, fundamentals of community organizing training, development of educational materials, and regional data housing of kilowatt rates across classes.