NEW ORLEANS—How do you take the idea of an electric cooperative to a remote Ethiopian village and make it real?

The answer, said NRECA International’s Nick Allen, is that it will be challenging but has the potential to dramatically improve people’s lives.

“I am here today to share the story of the people in Maji, Ethiopia, and the beginnings of what I hope will be a productive and successful process to create an electric co-op for the community,” said Allen, NRECA International’s country director in Ethiopia, at NRECA’s Annual Meeting.

“Maji doesn’t have clean running water; communication with the outside world is spotty at best, and most farmers devote a lot of work and energy to feeding their families,” Allen told co-op leaders Monday. “The literacy rate is low, and a newly built, government-funded hospital is empty right now because there is no electricity in the region.”

NRECA International is supporting the formation of an electric co-op with technical assistance and an investment of about $100,000, including $25,000 to finance solar home systems that will be leased to co-op members in Maji. These systems provide electric lamps, mobile phone charging and enough power for a small television.

The plan is for the new co-op to manage the solar home system sales and provide ongoing maintenance and repair. As the business grows, the co-op would develop a mini-grid in Maji to serve the whole town.

“This isn’t something that can be done overnight or without a lot of effort,” Allen said. “But we all know it’s possible. We saw it happen here, in this country, almost 100 years ago.”

NRECA International is implementing projects in 10 African countries this year, all focused on achieving universal electrification in the next decade, said Dan Waddle, senior vice president of NRECA International. The organization will also continue its work with longtime partners in Bolivia, Bangladesh and the Philippines.

“We always push our boundaries to elevate the quality of the services we provide,” Waddle said. “To make sure we continue to do this with excellence and integrity, we often ask ourselves: What is the value we bring? What is unique about our program?

“For me, the answer is clear. Our expertise and dedication are derived from the history represented by many of you here in this room: the need to provide safe, reliable and affordable electric service to communities that have limited resources.”

That mission continues around the world, Waddle said.

“In countries like Ethiopia, we continue to refine our understanding of the challenges and the approaches we use and rely on decades-old lessons from our co-op history,” he said.

More Annual Meeting Coverage: