News & Insights

Member Engagement Summit Focuses on Shifting Trends

Last month, 90 attendees representing electric cooperatives from 10 states gathered in Raleigh for the 2021 Member Engagement Summit, hosted by Cooperative Insights. Agenda topics included reflections on the Covid-19 pandemic and the Texas energy crisis, a CEO panel discussion the future of member engagement and an overview of the concepts of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

During the CEO panel, Josh Winslow and John Hewa, CEOs of Brunswick EMC and Rappahannock Electric Cooperative (VA), respectively, were joined by Nelle Hotchkiss and moderator Kristie Aldridge with North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives.

Hewa explained the concept of “disintermediation,” where a previously tight one-on-one relationship between electric co-ops and their members is being disrupted by third parties.

“There are now opportunities of lots of third parties – some can be beneficial, some can be challenging – getting between utilities and the consumer,” Hewa said.

Winslow explained the forces behind the shift. “Consumer behavior is driving it, technology is enabling it, and policy frames our response,” he said. “Consumers are assigning value to different things, with a premium on self-reliance and environmental impacts, driven by experiences they’ve had with other companies.”

During the discussion on DEI, Roanoke Electric Cooperative President & CEO Curtis Wynn was joined by Denise Gatling, founder and CEO of The Gatling Agency, who Wynn described as his DEI coach. The pair joined Aldridge in discussing a holistic approach to DEI. Companies are integrating the concept in five key areas: their workforce, the workplace, through community engagement, in the marketplace, and with suppliers.

Wynn compared the concept to that of safety: it’s one thing to want a safe workplace, but it takes a concerted effort to implement a successful safety program.

“Safety is measured, evaluated. We have to do the same with DEI,” Wynn said. “Take action to move it into the mainstream of what you’re doing, and make it a priority.”

“The whole concept of DEI is new, and it is a form of change that we’re going through right now,” he added. “But it goes right back to the cooperative principles – just keep that in mind.”