NRECA President Clyde Ellis (center-left) signs the first electrification contract with USAID as President Kennedy (seated right) looks on. (Photo courtesy NRECA International)
NRECA President Clyde Ellis (center-left) signs the first electrification contract with USAID as President Kennedy (seated right) looks on. (Photo courtesy NRECA International)

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) was barely a year old on November 3, 1961, when NRECA won its first contract to bring the cooperative model to overseas electrification work.

The contract-signing ceremony was to have been at the State Department, but President John F. Kennedy personally requested that the venue be moved to the Oval Office.

“It seems to me that contract holds special promise for those countries which have realized only a small fraction of their energy potential,” Kennedy said at the time. “I express the hope of all that the results of the contract will be an improved standard of living for millions of people.”

It was the beginning of a partnership that would result in the establishment of some of the most successful rural electrification programs in developing economies, impacting tens of millions of small businesses and households around the world. Three of these programs included the Philippines National Electrification Administration (NEA) the Bangladesh Rural Electrification Board; and creation of the Cooperativa Rural de Electrificacion (CRE) in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

In 1968, NRECA International designed three pilot rural electric cooperatives in the Philippines in a program financed by USAID. The success of the program led to the creation of the NEA that, with NRECA assistance, has helped create 119 electric co-ops serving more than 50 million people in 36,000 rural villages and towns throughout the archipelago.

In Bangladesh, more than 85 million rural residents now have access to electricity. Progress began in 1977 with a USAID-funded electrification project led by NRECA International. Seventy-nine electric cooperatives have since been created with more than 15 million connections.

A 1962 meeting between then- USAID Director Fowler Hamilton, NRECA CEO Clyde Ellis, and Bolivian community leader Ruben Terrazas led to the creation of CRE. Over the next 50 years, the co-op grew to become the largest electric cooperative in the world, now serving 600,000 consumer-members. The model of consumer engagement and empowerment that proved so successful in these countries is still being deployed by NRECA International and USAID today.

“Together with USAID, we’ve made it work for more than 50 years,” says Martin Lowery, NRECA executive vice president for member and association relations. “We will continue to identify innovative approaches to tackle challenges, power communities, and empower people to improve the quality of their lives .”

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