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Grant Highlight: CLSI Alumni Alexis Dunnum Reflects on Program Experience

Updated: Mar 5, 2020

The Cooperative Leaders and Scholars Institute (CLSI) is an opportunity for co-op employees, board members, or post-secondary students to participate in a national cooperative conference and gain exposure to co-op industry thought leaders, policymakers, and other key stakeholders. Applications for the 2020 cohort are due July 2, 2020.

2019 CLSI cohort member Alexis Dunnum, Communications Coordinator, NRECA, talked to The Buzz about the value of the program to her career.

Why were you interested in CLSI and what were you hoping to take away from the experience?

I was interested in CLSI because I wanted to gain a better understanding of the cooperative business model in general and learn how cooperatives can positively impact the lives of those living in rural America. Growing up in a farming community in Wisconsin, I was familiar with co-ops in the agriculture industry, but didn’t know that cooperatives can be successful for many other industries, as well! Additionally, I was interested in expanding my network in the cooperative world, with hopes of meeting and learning from individuals who could offer some advice or suggest additional professional opportunities to pursue.

What were your actual takeaways and have they been helpful to you since?

I certainly learned a lot throughout this experience, but the most important takeaway I gained was cooperatives must continue educating people about cooperatives, and the advantages of being a member of a co-op. As consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of their purchasing decisions, often choosing to purchase from purpose-driven businesses and companies that give back to communities, cooperatives have a competitive advantage because they have been purpose driven since day one! Successfully communicating this message to audiences in their communities will help cooperatives better educate their members and other individuals in the community.

Understanding this has made me think creatively of ways to incorporate co-op advocacy and education to the public and has even helped me reconsider some of my own purchasing habits.

What are you up to post CLSI?

After CLSI, I was incredibly motivated to become more active in the cooperative community and wanted to pursue a career opportunity that would allow me to utilize both my educational background in communications and my personal interests in cooperatives and rural development. In January 2020, I began working at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) as the Communications Coordinator.

Did CLSI give you a deeper understanding of the cooperative movement as a whole? How?

CLSI definitely gave me a deeper understanding of the cooperative movement. The two-day training session was a great baseline for understanding how co-ops can be successful businesses in various industries, but it also helped me think critically about issues I’ve experienced within my own communities. I really valued the open discussion amongst members of my cohort and the co-op educators in the room, as it allowed me to learn from others and consider solutions I hadn’t even thought of!

What advice would you give to prospective CLSI’ers?

To anyone considering the program, I would highly encourage you to apply! This was an incredibly rewarding experience and in addition to gaining an in depth understanding of the cooperative movement, I gained a whole network of individuals who are knowledgeable and available to assist me in projects moving forward. When considering my own future professional aspirations, I plan to return to my rural community in a few years to work on creating opportunities that would revitalize my hometown and surrounding region. While I know this task will not be an easy one, I feel confident because of the connections I’ve made and know I’ve got the support of individuals in the cooperative community. Applying for CLSI was probably the best decision I made for my professional development in 2019 and I would encourage others to do the same!

CLSI will be held on October 5 - 10, 2020 in Washington DC. All applications must include a letter of recommendation. Contact Greg Irving for more information, or to sponsor a participant.

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