NRECA International is devoting its 2020 fundraising campaign to helping members of a Liberian electric cooperative obtain loans to improve their small businesses through the use of electricity.
Totota Electric Cooperative, created in 2018 with contributions from U.S. co-ops and technical direction from NRECA International, is already fulfilling its first mission of bringing electricity to the homes of its 330 consumer-members for the first time.
But, just like other co-ops started around the world with help from NRECA International, Totota EC is looking to expand its reach to provide power to entrepreneurs who can use electricity to earn a better living for themselves and their families.
“Electrifying a village is transformative, but it’s only the first step,” said Dan Waddle, NRECA International’s senior vice president. “It doesn’t bring in enough money for the co-op to really grow and reach sustainability. To do that, they’ve got to sell more power.”
The co-op can achieve that through the “productive use of electricity,” providing opportunities that benefit the co-op, its members and the larger community by expanding economic development, Waddle said.
“Everybody wins,” he said.
NRECA International will work with a local financial institution and Totota EC to create a revolving loan fund that members can tap into to expand small businesses.
For example, Waddle said, a group of 20 seamstresses who already have a business may want to apply for a loan to buy electric sewing machines at $200 apiece so they can turn out more garments at a faster pace than they can sewing by hand. The co-op would help the women come up with a simple business plan, including a timetable to repay the small loan. When the loan is repaid in one to three years, that money would go back into a revolving fund to be used by other entrepreneurs.
“We prefer not to just hand out money,” Waddle said. “Ideally, we want to establish a loan program rather than grants. We’ll look at the local market, come up with an investment plan that makes sense and provide technical assistance and teach business skills. The money would go primarily to people who already have a business.”
NRECA International has helped create similar revolving loan programs at co-ops throughout the globe for the past 40 years.
“The idea is to grow people’s income through the productive use of electricity,” Waddle said.
Erin Kelly is a staff writer at NRECA.