In our inaugural Board Spotlight, we’re proud to share words of wisdom from Donna Cooper, Co-Chair of WDCEP’s Board of Directors . Donna currently serves as Pepco’s Region President, bringing a mountain of accomplishments and expertise along with her.
What is the best advice you have received?
Donna Cooper (DC): My father and mother really embedded in me what it means to be a leader from a professional and community perspective, through direct teaching and my observation. My father was a small business owner and deeply involved as a community leader.
I have always been taught to identify my passion and share this with others. I channel my passion around these seven guiding principles:
- Be flexible and adaptable, as change is inevitable and necessary
- Integrity is central and should never be compromised
- Always assist others: give back
- Confront challenges and look at them as opportunities
- Success may not come on the first try, but perseverance is key
- Learn and then create a pathway for others.
- Lend your voice and perspective to important matters and issues—if you do not, they may never be raised
How did COVID-19 impact PEPCO and what did PEPCO’s pivot look like?
DC: The COVID pandemic has impacted everyone. For our business, we had to ensure that we did not miss a step in continuing to deliver the highest level of service to our customers. Due to the nature of our business, continuity is critical. We were able to transition many of our operations safely and effectively. However, we are a company that operates in the public space. We work literally around-the-clock to maintain, upgrade, and modernize our system. Therefore, our crews had to continue executing this important work, while also adhering to heightened safety protocols.
The economy was significantly impacted, including many of our customers. We were one of the first utilities in the region to suspend service disconnections and late fees. We enhanced a regulatory filing to advance additional programs that provided relief to our many types of customers (residential, businesses, nonprofits, houses of worship, etc.) and communities at-large.
We provided additional funding to nonprofit partners that were addressing food insecurity, gave grants to local businesses, provided financial support to students in community colleges, and supplied food for health care workers. We continued our workforce development/career development program through the DC Infrastructure Academy—training local residents for opportunities within our company and with our contract partners. I want to underscore that every graduate is guaranteed a position.
I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the social injustices magnified during this time as well. We entered into a partnership agreement with the Washington Interfaith Network focused on racial equity and inclusion. I look forward to the beneficial long-term outcomes of this agreement.
We continued our community outreach, engagement, and participation with our many stakeholders through virtual open houses, meetings, and advisory groups. We announced our Climate Action Plan in November 2020 and continue to advance programs that are responsive to the diverse interests of our customers. These initiatives include electrification of the transportation sector, exploring connected communities, as well as partnering with nonprofit organizations and DOEE on expanding community solar.
We recognize that everyone is not in the same position, and we do not take that lightly. This unprecedented pandemic highlights even more the importance of our commitment to our employees, customers, and communities.
How does community have a role in your professional career?
DC: Community and service are central to both my professional career and to me personally. I am not sure that individuals naturally think about businesses from a service/assistance perspective. Regardless of what business you are in, service delivery is a crucial priority. You must be responsive to the interests of the communities and customers that you are privileged to serve.
Our industry is service-focused at its core. We are responsible for equitably and inclusively delivering safe, reliable, affordable, and sustainable energy services. We have an obligation to support the communities that we are a part of and serve in becoming stronger and more sustainable. I am pleased to be a part of a business in which delivery of service is the first and foremost priority.
However, we also have a role that is much broader than just our core responsibility. From helping with the capacity-building of local and diverse business enterprises to partnering with nonprofits, community leaders, faith-based communities, and governments—we have the momentum to drive positive and inclusive change. Through collaboration, we can all maximize positive outcomes.
What does leadership mean to you?
DC: Being inclusive, visionary, collaborative, strategic, aware, and empathetic. Being able to recognize the strengths of others and creating opportunities for them to develop and excel. Being decisive, while also explaining your chosen direction. Being willing to both listen and process.
One must be aware of the implication of their decisions and actions. One must be able to bring others along/input—inclusivity and collaboration are always key!
What has been an invaluable learning lesson in your career?
DC: I have been taught that perseverance is the key to success. In reflecting on my personal experiences and professional career, I am certain that one will always face challenges. However, it is about how we respond to challenges that speak to who we are.
I have an inscription on my mirror that, in the words of my grandmother, says: “There is no such thing as can’t.” You may have to choose another path to achieve the outcome that is desirable. However, you should never retreat when the outcome sought is not immediate.
What are you excited about solving or leading in the next several years?
DC: I am excited about PEPCO doing our part to build a more equitable region. While I recognize that there are systemic changes required, we also have to recognize our role in addressing ongoing inequities. We have to use the resources available to us to deliver change. I want to ensure that we are creating expanded opportunities that positively impact the communities that we live in and serve.
We have to utilize the resources that we possess to influence and make change. I want to ensure that we are creating expanded opportunities that positively impact the communities that live in and serve, equitably and inclusively.
Also as the electric utility, we have a key role in helping to mitigate/combat climate change, through our operations, programs, initiatives and partnerships. I look forward to continuing to work with our customers, the government of the District of the Columbia, environmental organizations, community and business leaders, universities, and nonprofits in assisting the District of Columbia become the cleanest, greenest, sustainable, equitable and inclusive model for others to replicate and follow.
Pepco Region President
+ WDCEP Board Co-Chair