Executive Director, The Energy Co-op
I’m the kind of person who, if I identify a problem, I am volunteering to be a part of the solution.
As long as the lights turn on, the temperature is comfortable, and the stove works, most consumers aren’t particularly interested in their utilities. As the executive director of The Energy Co-op, a Philadelphia-area nonprofit that provides clean energy options for Pennsylvania residents and businesses, Damali Rhett knows that 90 percent of Americans don’t engage with their utility companies on a regular basis.
But Rhett thinks about a Philadelphia resident she recently met who hasn’t had heat in 20 years, and has been without electricity since last year. “Think about all the things you can’t do without electricity,” says Rhett. “How do you engage with people online? How do you research and do homework? Electricity is an absolute requirement to economic access and to equalize societies.”
Rhett took the helm of The Energy Co-op in late 2016, after a career spent in consulting and finance, often working in the energy industry. Because Pennsylvania allows consumers to choose their energy supplier and many prefer to use renewable sources of power, The Energy Co-op has more than 5,000 members in Philadelphia and four surrounding counties. Each month, it purchases green electricity on its customers’ behalf, allowing them to support solar or wind power without the expense of installing solar panels or turbines.
Rhett’s interest in energy was first sparked by OnSite Global Consulting, a second-year immersive course where students consult for global clients. She and her classmates went to Puerto Rico to explore markets for propane and liquefied natural gas in the Caribbean. She returned fired up about energy and specialized in it when she entered into management consulting.
When Rhett joined The Energy Co-op, she identified what she calls “a classic MBA problem:” the co-op had been losing members, so it had to raise prices. But by raising prices, it was losing members. Right now, its green energy does come at a premium price.
To attract more members—she aims to triple membership in the next five years—Rhett has amped up the Co-op’s marketing efforts, and now holds at least one event per month, such as high-energy dance classes or a recent cleanup of the Schuylkill River. She’s also aiming to build a community around sustainability and engaging local businesses.
“We make it easy to support green energy—just pay your bill,” says Rhett. “But I also want to create other value for our members. We have a community of like-minded people, so one of the things I want to do is start a co-op business directory to foster support among members.”
With her five-person team, Rhett does everything from strategy to payroll to social media. She credits Tuck with helping her develop the ability to jump into something unfamiliar and know how to ask the right questions along the way.
Rhett also finds it helpful to call on the Tuck alumni network and learn from her classmates’ experience. She is a co-leader of the Tuck Association of Diverse Alumni, a group that is providing a platform for a broadly-defined diverse group of alumni to talk about issues of diversity and also promote it among Tuck students, faculty, and staff.
“I’m the kind of person who, if I identify a problem, I am volunteering to be a part of the solution,” she says.
That’s part of what appealed to her about The Energy Co-Op’s startup-like environment after years of working for large corporations—in part, the chance to prove that her ideas will work.
“We get very few opportunities in life to shape something and transform it, and that’s what I’m trying to do here now,” she says. “I love the energy industry, but it’s also supporting sustainability and the environment—both things that I’m excited and passionate about.”
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