From South Africa to Wisconsin to Learn the Co-op Way

USAID visitors see how the electric co-op model can light up Africa

(L-R) Ken Miller, ACEC safety manager and Garin Gavinski, journeyman lineman, chat with Power Africa’s Andrew Herscowitz. (Photo By: Adams-Columbia Electric Cooperative)

It’s a long way from Pretoria, South Africa, to Friendship, Wisconsin, but it was worth the trip.

For the delegation led by Andrew Herscowitz, the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Power Africa coordinator, it was a chance to both receive a history lesson about America’s electric co-ops, and learn about how the cooperative model can be applied in African countries.

“When electric co-ops help people get electricity access in communities here at home or in a developing country, it is people helping people,” said Larry Becker, a director for Adams-Columbia Electric Cooperative, which hosted the visit. “And when we teach them to use the cooperative model, people take responsibility for their electric service.”

With two out of three people in sub-Saharan Africa lacking access to electricity, Power Africa’s goal is to add more than 30,000 megawatts of electricity generation capacity and 60 million new home and business connections by 2030.

“NRECA has been with Power Africa since the beginning when we started planning and thinking through ideas,” said Herscowitz. “And we continue to work together, having just launched three regional electrification master plans in Uganda recently that were prepared with support by NRECA International.”

Herscowitz is hoping a community-driven approach can help expand electricity to dispersed, low-income populations. And with the help of NRECA, he can advance the co-op model where it makes sense.

“Power Africa is helping the U.S. put its best foot forward overseas while helping to connect African families and businesses bringing stability to the region,” Herscowitz added.

Power Africa’s Andrew Herscowitz (center) presents a token of appreciation to Larry Becker (left) of ACEC and Steve Freese of the Wisconsin statewide. (Photo By: Adams-Columbia Electric Cooperative)

During the visit, which also included a meeting with linemen at work, Becker and other co-op staff members spoke about why the co-op business model worked for rural America and how it can help countries in Africa.

“As the U.S. electrification program grew, co-op members stayed interested, and advocated for themselves and for expanded electric service,” Steve Freese, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association, said during his welcoming remarks. “We showed that if you help people with the original investment, people will take care of the infrastructure.”

This wasn’t the first time Herscowitz has experienced co-op hospitality. NRECA International is a founding partner of the Power Africa initiative dating back to its launch in 2013, and he was the keynote speaker at the International Luncheon at the 2017 NRECA annual meeting in February.