By Erin Kelly
Dan Waddle, senior vice president of NRECA International, was inducted into the Cooperative Hall of Fame on October 6, 2022, by the Cooperative Development Foundation.
Waddle, who joined NRECA International in 1991, was chosen for his decades of leadership in bringing electricity to rural communities in developing nations throughout the world. Waddle is one of five leaders from various types of co-ops to receive the honor for 2022. CDF announced the inductees in January.
The Cooperative Development Foundation, the nonprofit affiliate of the National Cooperative Business Association, said that under Waddle’s leadership, “NRECA International has implemented successful, sustainable, scalable rural electrification programs that improve education, health care, safety, and economic opportunities in communities across the world.”
In his acceptance speech, Waddle said his interest in helping to alleviate extreme poverty in other nations dates back to his childhood. His father served in the Army, which moved the family to Eritrea in East Africa when Dan was a boy.
On the other side of a 10-foot concrete security wall built on the military base was a community of people who lived in mud huts and rough-hewn wood houses with no running water or toilets, Waddle said.
“When we learned we were going to Africa, I thought we would see lions, elephants and zebra,” he told the audience at the National Press Club. “I had no idea we would see endemic poverty just beyond the edge of our yard. When I looked over that wall, I did not imagine, of course, that I would one day focus my life’s work on poverty alleviation.”
After earning a master’s degree in agricultural engineering at Virginia Tech, Waddle moved to Kenya for about two years to teach that subject at a small university in Njoro. From there, he went to work in the Philippines for four years, then to a job at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. In 1991, he joined NRECA International to manage a project in La Paz, Bolivia.
“What I have learned is…yes, there are community conflicts and there may be petty politics,” Waddle said in an interview before his Oct. 6 induction. “But when communities come together to build schools, water systems or electric service, the generosity and genuine goodwill are overpowering. We have seen this fundamental truth revealed in every country where we work, project after project, community after community.”
Waddle also called electrification “a team sport” and said the Hall of Fame honor should not be his alone.
“Our team at NRECA International is composed of a group of remarkably talented and dedicated professionals,” he said during the interview. “I have learned most of what I know today through lessons we have learned together. And this is partly why accepting this honor was difficult for me—because the success we have experienced is due to the efforts of many team members and the support we have received through our NRECA administration and our board of directors.”
Waddle publicly thanked his wife, Barbara, his three grown children, Tolsun, Michael and Andi, and other family members for putting up with all his work travel. His passion for his career has sometimes interfered with a cohesive family life, he said.
“I owe so much to all of my family,” he said, “and love them dearly.”