Advancing Equity & Opportunity Collaborative

The AEO Collaborative

Advancing Core Campaign Work & Engaging Through Collaboration

Advancing Equity & Opportunity Collaborative (AEO) is a coalition of groups in the South working to identify and address the opportunities and threats associated with energy extraction, production and use in the region, and the related impacts on Black communities, communities of color and low-wealth communities.

The AEO Collaborative’s work is grounded in the following core values:

Specificity of Place

We believe that Southern people and place matter.


We believe in collaboration that is grounded in a deep commitment to inclusivity, solidarity, bottom-up organizing, and transformation of self, systems, and structures.

Participatory Democracy

We believe in the right of the people to directly participate in decisions that affect our lives, including decisions about energy sector investments.

We also believe that the process matters and that the journey toward a destination is itself the destination.

Frontline Leadership

We believe that those who live and work in the most affected communities should be fully represented in both our membership and leadership positions, and play a leading role in decision making.


We believe that we must develop authentic relationships across our differences, and to deepen our analyses of social power (race, class, gender and sexual orientation, etc.) and the ways in which they inform and impact our work.


We believe that everyone gains when we begin by serving those among us who are most in need.

A Brief History

U.S. history is deeply marked by quests for equity and opportunity among communities in Southern states.

Today, many communities fighting for dignity and fairness in the South are already pursuing equity and opportunity through campaigns for energy, climate, and environmental justice.

Among the many local organizations working on these issues, resonance across strategic themes is strong, yet the capacity to coordinate work rooted in the South is extremely limited.

To overcome these limitations to building more power in the South...

nearly twenty groups came together in 2014 to launch the Advancing Equity & Opportunity (AEO) Collaborative.

AEO was envisioned as a regional organizing platform that would sustain engagement through collaboration while also advancing core campaign work of the individual organizations.

The AEO Collaborative works across eleven states in the South - Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.

Our analysis of the history and current conditions in the United States also leads us to learn from and seek strategic partnerships with members of the Global South, i.e. those lesser developed countries that have resulted from a parallel course of political and economic development based on exclusionary and oppressive beliefs and institutional practices.

Our Timeline


January 2014

Organizers from nearly twenty groups advancing equity and opportunity in the U.S. South through work on energy, climate, and environmental justice engaged each other through a series of conference calls to explore the landscape of activity and a formation that would connect the regions and support opportunities to collaborate.

April 2014

Participants from the conference calls convened at The Highlander Center for four days to focus on ways to strengthen engagement that would help build power and draw more resources to the region. Sixty pages of direct notes from those dialogues provided a basis for continuing dialogues and vision documents below.

June 2014

Organizers who converged at the Highlander Center in April described a number of things that would be helpful to see further developed to support collaboration. To be responsive to a number of requests and open questions, a document was created - Options for A Way Forward and circulated to participants for feedback about the next steps.

July - Sept. 2014

The Options for A Way Forward document and continuing monthly calls (including a call with leaders of the Climate Justice Alliance and the Building Equity & Alignment Initiative) informed the development of a Concept Paper that went through multiple rounds of review and comment from participating groups. The Concept Paper set forth a federated funding model for supporting the participating groups in work together as a collaborative.

October 2014

The AEO Concept Paper informed a nomination to the Chorus Foundation in response to their call for sites to support work on just transition.

December 2014

Drawing deeply on the collectively developed AEO Concept Paper, a planning team within AEO worked together to develop a detailed Letter Of Inquiry invited by the Chorus Foundation.


In 2015, monthly calls among participating groups shifted to calls for three working groups: Recovery & Restoration, Democratizing Rural Electric Coops, Clean Power Plan. Meanwhile, individual organizations sought individual funding and contributed staff time. For example:

  • Federation of Southern Cooperatives was funded by Rockefeller Family Fund to support an organizing campaign in Black Warrior Electric territory in Eppes, AL.

  • Partnership for Southern Equity was funded by Nathan Cummings to expand work with cooperatives in Georgia.

February 2015

Federation of Southern Cooperatives led a delegation to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association national convention.

April 2015

USCAN and the Dolphin Foundation co-sponsored a gathering for AEO members ahead of the Climate & Energy Funder’s Collaborative conference in Atlanta, GA.

August 2015

The Gulf South Rising 10-year commemoration of Hurricane Katrina was the occasion of a historic gathering organized by the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy and AEO members supported with transportation for community organizers and survivors from around the South to also attend.

October 2015

FSC supported a delegation to attend the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association meeting for the Southeast region.


January 2016

USCAN and SEEA were funded to convene a 2-day gathering about advancing equity in the implementation of the Clean Power Plan in the South, and AEO participants were the majority of attendees. Many stayed an extra day to coordinate further on work with electric cooperatives. The gathering in Atlanta in January 2016 led to discussions about the need for more strategic support and structure for AEO.

May 2016

AEO secured funding from the Surdna Foundation, Solutions Project, Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, Chorus Foundation to engage in a strategic planning process.

September 2016

Several AEO members join a national strategy session hosted at the Hewlett Foundation for organizations engaging electric cooperatives, highlighting the significance of Southern leadership and opportunity for impact. Soon thereafter, AEO engaged a consultant to facilitate a process to create a 5-year Strategic Plan.

November 2016

AEO Leadership Team and Working Group Co-Chairs facilitated virtual meetings with their working group members to develop and draft content related to their respective working groups to be included in the overall strategic plan.


March 2017

The Clean Power Plan was withdrawn by Executive Order, and the AEO Clean Power Plan Working Group re-oriented its frame to include a broader range of state-level energy policy and planning activities.

April 2017

AEO Leadership Team and Working Group Co-Chairs participated in a day-long planning workshop to establish a framework and principles towards a governance structure and coordinate strategic plan elements of each working group.

May 2017

AEO hosted an all-membership update call to share summaries from each working group and gain insight and feedback from AEO participating members.

July 2017

AEO submits a DRAFT strategic plan to funders.


January 2018

The AEO Design Team and key funders participated in a series of calls to discuss the state of AEO, opportunities, and potential for moving forward.

May 2018

AEO Recovery & Restoration Working Group received $50,000 in funds from the Surdna Foundation to implement Racial Agency, Infrastructure, and Equity: a twelve-month suite of events, reports, tours, and toolkits designed to increase the grassroots capacity and the number of tools available in frontline communities.

October 2018

Democratizing Rural Electric Cooperatives received $65,000 in funds from the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation to implement the DREC governance model and establish a working group funding model in order to re-grant a portion of grant dollars to frontline member organizations.

October 2018

Twenty-one AEO DREC Working Group participants convened in Atlanta for a strategic planning workshop. A work plan was developed and action teams were formed to focus on each of the three DREC goals.

November 2018

Georgia WAND and Partnership for Southern Equity co-hosted “A Healthy, Prosperous, and Prepared Burke County: Leadership in Partnership” to bring together residents across age, race, gender, and field to share information and experiences on topics such as health, policy, environmental concerns, racial equity, jobs policy, water, climate change, and emergency preparedness, and sustainable solutions.

December 2018

The DREC Working Group facilitated a nomination and voting process for their Issue Group Council. The IGC consists of Two Co-Facilitators and a Secretary per the AEO Strategic Plan.