Listening to change
By Joseph P. Brannan
For more than 75 years, electric cooperatives have focused on our communities and the connections we make to them. As we look at what we have done and what has worked, we see our involvement in building infrastructure, in economic development, in education. By reaching out and into our communities, we have struck a balance of service, loyalty and trust.
Today, touching our communities has more than just a local impact. What we do now has the power to reach beyond our own geographic regions.
As we listen to today's young people, we can hear a very important message that they are sending to us. They are saying, "We love our community. We love what this community represents. We want to stay here and be a part of its future."
So what can we do as electric cooperatives to help make that happen? We can help to improve the foundations of communities and to build new ones, not just in providing reliable electric service, but also adding to the infrastructure. And the infrastructure is larger than roads and transportation and utilities.
Information is part of the infrastructure where we work now. Think of the vast amount of information we get every day, with the Internet and smartphones. You might say that young people today spend too much time on their smartphones, but they look there for information about what is going on. The older, more experienced among us must embrace this.
The most challenging thing in life is to understand change as it's happening, not just as it happened.
We face the challenge of making our communities places where young people want to stay and work and participate — places they can return to if they go off for education or adventure. When we're young, we develop a personal relationship with our community. Our community helps us feel secure, it helps us feel happy. After 75 years of providing electricity to rural communities, what have we learned that we can apply going forward? We can help people feel good in their communities. We can look at our communities not as struggling places, but as places of opportunity.
There are huge challenges before us as electric service providers: aging systems, rising costs, load forecasts. But if we consider those challenges in a bigger, more holistic sense, as part of life itself, we can be stronger in facing those challenges. Our long history of reaching out into our communities allows us to focus beyond electric service, to creating jobs, educating people, attracting people and keeping people. We can build more than what we see and touch — more than roads, sewer, water. We can build the intangible, we can build a standard of living. Cooperatives can do that by engaging with our members and helping them to feel empowered that they do make a meaningful difference.
The two most important things we can do to commit ourselves to this work and move forward are 1) to listen, learn and apply what we learn to better our community and society, and 2) to embrace change, adapt to changes and put them to good use.
As not-for profit, democratic service businesses, cooperatives are in the best position to make these community connections work for everyone.