Build future leadership, co-ops told at NRECA gathering
Friday, March 15, 2019
by: Dave Hoopman

Section: Community

The leadership provided by electric cooperatives is “uniquely valuable” to the communities they serve and today’s co-op leaders must prepare new generations to take that leadership into the future, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association CEO Jim Matheson told attendees at the organization’s annual meeting in Florida Monday.

“You inherited this responsibility from people who knew that for the community to thrive, the co-op had to outlast them,” Matheson said. “It had to endure. And they developed your generation of leadership…It will fall to someone else to take your work and build on it.”

Focus on the community takes the nation’s electric co-ops beyond politics, but at the same time contributes to their being politically effective, Matheson indicated. The community is “exactly where we focus. That’s what sets us apart.” 

 that’s grounded in the cooperative principle of concern for community,” he said. “It’s why I urge you to invite elected officials into your co-op—they need to hear from you. It’s why coming to Washington for the legislative rally is so important—our leaders need to see people from back home taking action. These are important opportunities to share your experiences and use your voice to promote what co-ops do and why we do it.”

The cooperative business model is “programmed to get beyond the superficial divisions in our country” and this enables co-op leaders to “look far into the future and say, here is how to make our community stronger—a hundred years from now—starting now.”

He reeled off a list of community-focused co-op activities that have little direct connection with delivering electricity to co-op members but help strengthen communities and give cooperatives special credibility: “Job training and continuing education programs. Youth Tour. Community development. Broadband projects. Health fairs. Job fairs. Scholarship programs. Operation Round-Up. Volunteer services. Literacy programs.”

Matheson credited his mother, now 89, for frequently asking, “What are you going to do to make your com munity a better place?”

Answering that question depends in part on cultivating the next generation of co-op leaders, he said. “Turn to the people who will bear this responsibility next. It’s not just looking at one promising person and pinning our hopes to them. It’s about preparing everyone in the community to participate in the life of their co-op.” 
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