Baby steps forward
Welcome to the newly formed "Solar for Empowerment" group and thank you for joining in the discussion on various strategies for delivering solar energy products to off-grid communities in the developing world. My primary motivation for starting this group is that I am personally looking for find or develop a product, such as a solar light or solar recharger, which could then be sold through Microfinance in off-grid areas and to those lacking electricity. To start I have not selected any particular country to focus on, but rather I am hoping that I will make some connections through Pulsewire and other avenues I am pursuing that will make sense to partner with.
As American, it is astounding for me to comprehend that nearly 2.5 billion people in the developing world live on less than $2 a day, and it unfathomable that the large majority of these people do not have the advantage of electricity, a luxury that most Americans take for granted. There are huge problems associated with this.
According to the World Bank, 1.6 million people die each year from indoor air pollution associated with the burning of wood, dung, agricultural residues, and coal. That is one person every twenty seconds. The World Bank also notes that 780 million people in the developing world, mostly women and children, are exposed to kerosene lantern fumes equivalent to two packs of cigarettes a day. In addition to the environment concerns and health effects associated with pollution from fires and kerosene, a lack of reliable lighting is an economic obstacle for the poor. A study conducted by the join UN Development Program/World Bank Energy Sector Management Assistance Program found that rural households can spend up to 30% of the family's income on lighting from candles, kerosene and dry cell batteries.
But, I see this also presents a tremendous opportunity to help transform the lives of so many people. Not only is there a huge worldwide market for solar lighting and other products and a demonstrated need and demand for such products. While there has been several successful pilots and programs, I venture to say that less than 1% of the worldwide poor have been reached. This tells me that there is huge potential to make a different if we can move beyond the hurdles of financing and distribution.
This is a audacious undertaking for me personally... quite frankly it's a little scary as I am not quite sure if I can overcome the obstacles required to be successful. On a person note, I currently work 20-30 hours a week and am a full-time mother to my almost 5 year old daughter and a part-time step mother to my husband's 11 year old daughter and almost 9 year old son. So I have a lot on my plate to start with. But, this is something that I am very passionate about and this is a problem I feel compelled to take on. For a long time, I've wanted to pursue an empowerment project in the developing world. In my travels to developing countries, my heart has been shaken to the core by poverty and lack of opportunity for so many. I've wanted to do something, but I could figure out what that something was. For sometime now, I've been fascinated by the concept of Microfinance and I recently started learning about some current initiatives in Green Microfinance. As soon as I heard of the notion of renewable energy products delivered with a microfinance model, it was like a lightbulb went on in my head.. I was so excited and so clear that this is what I wanted to pursue.
For starters, I feel that I should offer this disclaimer to our group members. This is unchartered territory for me. I do not have experience in solar energy, nor do have first hand experience in Microfinance or manufacturing. And aside from a short trip to Egypt, I've never been to Africa. My experience in the developing world is limited to time in Nepal, Thailand, part of Latin America and Kazakhstan. I am a executive recruiter (headhunter) by trade with some significant fundraising experience and a background in web 2.0 and internet research. What I do know how to do is to connect, sell ideas, leverage the power of the internet and social networking vehicles, raise money and recruit specialists. So, I hope that you will forgive any naivity on my part as I still have a steep learning curve.
I've been doing a lot of research on this subject the past few weeks and have been talking about this with friends and new acquaintances with varied expertise in manufacturing, product design, international development and international trade. I've found a wealth of information on the internet and have quickly learned a lot by reading case studies and about various programs already in place. But, I realize there is so much more to learn.
As a quick primer for those who may be new to learning about solar delivery to the developing world, I thought I would point out a few of the successful initiatives that I found on the internet. Here goes.
Beyond Solar is a nonprofit founded by Jeff Olshesky and Trevor Knauf. They applied the concept of microcredit to the renewable energy sector to prove that the rural poor could afford the cost of solar powered lighting systems. They ran a pilot program in which they distributed 162 lanterns to three tribal villages in the Koraput district of southern Orissa, India. There is a great case study up on their website which details their project and learnings.
As a nonprofit venture, SunNight Solar donates lights and distributes them to needy individuals and families by organizations that are established and working in the developing world. These organizations include Feed the Children, Samaritan's Purse, UNHCR, and the Invisible Children, as well as many other international assistance groups.
http://light.lbl.gov (The Lumina Project)
The Lumina Project is a research pilot sponsored by Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories.
DIY Solar has posted a bit about their program for simple build it yourself equipment on Pulsewire, but I have yet to locate their website. I have invited Graham Knight of the nonprofit BioDesign to join this group.
Another great resource is the Solar Electric Light Fund (www.self.org). With it's partners, SELF oversees technology transfer, establishes "in-country" joint ventures and for profit partnerships and provides technical assistance and youth training.
Well, this is a start. I will provide more resources as I come upon them. I invite you to share any resources that you may know of to the group.
I am looking forward to sharing the journey with you and will be most appreciative of any ideas and input you are able to offer. This group is intended to serve as both a sounding board and a listening board. I would love to hear from you about the needs you perceive in the communities you work with and welcome your ideas and brainstorming. I also plan to use this forum as a way to inform others of existing programs and products that may be beneficial to your organizations. I will soon be posting some surveys focused on specific topics to get the dialogue going and to start the process of brainstorming and sharing solutions. I'll also be posting messages regarding the progress I'm making and obstacles I'm facing. My hope is that by working together we will start to sort through the challenges of delivery to make this dream a reality.
Thank you for your interest and collaboration. I look forward to partnering with you and your organizations.
Oakland, California USA