Building Social Value
Key Component in building Social Value = REAs are an active and visible part of their Community
We cannot isolate the REA and look at it as a single entity because the REA’s place in the community is in direct relation to their environment and the people around them. It is necessary to identify its purpose within the community. It means strengthening business and social relationships and, it might mean, an investment of time or money to achieve this end.
Rural communities, large and small, celebrate their unity in one way or another many times during the year. Rodeos, fairs, exhibitions, agricultural society displays, trade days, BBQs, school events, community gatherings – all have a place in local celebrations. The REA can participate by originating an event or by ensuring they are a visible part of the festivities. REAs have been around for many years contributing to their communities, providing valuable services; there should not be the common response of “what is an REA?” As an integral part of the rural community, REAs provide an essential service, in whatever capacity they operate and they should be recognized for doing so.
A majority of the responses from participants during our surveys researching community involvement outlined a dismal presence. Some REAs indicated they participated in local parades and others thought working with other cooperatives might be a good way to partner. With that in mind, however, a number of directors did not see the point of participating in events or offering sponsorships of any kind because it showed no return on their investment. True, promotion, sponsorship and paid advertising, does not show immediate results with quantifiable measures. The return on investment lies in the benefit to exposure over time. A continuing campaign launched a few years ago, could now be showing a significant return on investment with increased awareness in the community and renewed interest and/or participation. Those who choose to participate need to consider the impact the REA has at the local level and be aware of the community and social commitment as a cooperative.
The REA is a member-owned business cooperative representative of the rural farm community in which it operates. The REA is, therefore, made up of a diverse population with changing values. Rural farms in Alberta have experienced drastic changes over the last 60 years, declining from major support industries to minor ones. As of 2005, a mere 4.7 %* of the population in Alberta is representative of rural farms. Migration in and out of the rural farming areas has introduced a new generation of farmers who might not farm fulltime for a living, however, are rural power consumers, none the less. Migration into the province increases cultural differences that also must be considered when looking at the demographics within a community. Senior populations are growing in numbers – younger populations have diverse interests.
Social value is difficult to understand because you cannot quantify it in the same manner you could the provision of power at cost, for example. Often without the attachment of a dollar figure, it is not seen as valuable. Nothing could be further from the truth. The REA is undeniably a social enterprise with a foundational system of beliefs and values outlined in the seven Cooperative Principles. The key component to building on social value - is to create awareness by being present and contributing to the overall wealth of a social community. By showing community compassion, pariticipating and supporting local community events, increasing involvement in non-power related events - all show support for the community in which the REA operates and contributes to a sustainable future for all involved.
For more ideas on being involved to create a social presence in your community, refer to the documents listed below. Files are available to members - login to your account.
*Alberta’s Rural Demography http://www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$department?deptdocs.nsf/all/csi12612 - March 2009
Written by Linda J. Pedley for the AFREA © July 2011 and is for the express use of member Rural Electrification Associations in conjunction with: The REA Strategy – Sustainability and the Power to Grow © September 2009/11 and The REA Advantage © September 2009/11 for strategic sustainability and business continuity planning.