Regular readers of Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News know we make frequent reference to “the seven cooperative principles” that are intended to guide the governance practices and daily operations of every co-op business, whether of the electric variety or any other.
Most often mentioned is “concern for community,” (principle number 7) because it comes into play whenever our member cooperatives award scholarships to local students, lend a hand in a local project, or step up to encourage—and sometimes directly assist—economic growth in the communities they serve, as well as when some unusual need arises.
Less often written about in these pages but nevertheless a key and constant feature of the Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association’s (WECA) member-centered programming is our Fifth Principle, “Education, Training, and Information.”
This refers primarily to the education of co-op directors and management personnel to deepen their understanding of the cooperative way of doing business. It also refers to training and information for co-op employees to help them appreciate what’s expected of them and why, to perform their duties in a manner that maintains their personal and the general public’s safety, and to familiarize them with the issues and challenges that confront their business sector on a daily basis.
Annually, WECA offers about three dozen programs for co-op personnel collectively involving more than 1,500 participants in presentations ranging from half a day to two days and covering an extensive range of topics.
A prime example of all of this is the annual WECA Education and Lobby Days, held every winter in Madison. In mid-February this year, more than 150 co-op leaders from every part of the state gathered for presentations from top-flight speakers on subjects that affect their businesses and every electric co-op member.
The participants heard from—and had the opportunity to question—a respected international energy consultant who once served on the Wisconsin Public Service Commission; a Wisconsin-based expert with decades of national experience in natural gas markets and an informed perspective on where they’re headed (mostly good news); the Washington bureau chief of a major Wisconsin newspaper who examined how southwest Wisconsin has become a focal point in studying national election trends; and four candidates—Democrat, Republican, and Independent, including the incumbent—for a Wisconsin U.S. Senate seat up for election this fall.
On the second morning, participants were briefed on the current status of legislative action affecting electric cooperatives. Thus prepared, they crossed the street to the Capitol for face-to-face meetings with their state lawmakers and legislative staff. This is valuable both for co-op members and their elected representatives, because when the representatives are asked to vote on a proposal involving co-ops, the reasons why that proposal is in front of them will have been explained by people—their constituents—who have firsthand knowledge.
A former longtime WECA employee with prior service as a legislative staffer has said that in the Capitol, electric co-op lobbyists were always seen as sources of truthful information, and “we always understood that they didn’t come around asking for things unless it really mattered.”
The basis of that understanding reaches back over decades and hasn’t changed. It’s the Fifth Principle in action: Education, Training and Information. It leaves everyone better prepared for the work they do.