This comparative case study by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association contrasts the self-help development of the CRE electric cooperative in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, with a more government-dominated Comilla cooperative that is located outside of Dhaka, Bangladesh. As one of the largest electric cooperatives in the world, CRE has about 100,000 members and, along with other cooperatives in Santa Cruz, they provide telecommunication and wastewater services to this urban community. Formed in the early 1960s, CRE had to overcome initial government opposition to a cooperative structured utility and was one of the first to receive funding from USAID.
In the 1970s, Comilla was created as a model cooperative to begin implement area wide rural electric coverage in Bangladesh. It has the heavy strings of government through REB, the rural electric funding agency, including selection of managers and strong oversight. A positive outcome is the requirement that all cooperatives had a “lady advisor” on their board, not likely through democratic elections. Unlike CRE, Comilla is part of a 25-year on-going effort to bring electricity to all rural areas. Financial analyses of both cooperatives indicate that each is very strong in liquidity, solvency and profitability based on US standard ratios.
The history and organization of these different cooperatives is provided in some detail including their operations, governance and structures. The two cooperatives have resulted in dramatic economic development through bringing affordable and reliable electricity to their communities. The impacts on rural people in the Camilla service area is particularly significant in reducing poverty and generated industrial and commercial development, and widespread improvements in health, education and female empowerment. Lessons learned are drawn from both experiences.