Sunday, May 8, 2016

Solar Forward - Allow survivors access to sustainable energy #Nepal #Earthquake

Following the Nepal Earthquake in 2015, many communities were left without power. However, even after a year, the power has not returned to these communities. Many NGOs has called for donations of solar kits to give some of these communities light. I met up with various of these groups and they were interested in giving a few hundred solar kits to villages, however, as there were millions living in the dark, the question I often asked is, “How do you pick who receives these solar kits?”
Looking at the projects and speaking to people from the villages. The feedback I received was that, there is a real need for light and cell phone charging. Having a few more hours of productivity, having energy to power lights and charge cell phones is very important indeed. The fact is, many of these communities do have a need to charge their phones for communication. Their kids do go to school, and light is important for them to do homework. Some of the residents in the villages do have other work besides farming, and a few more hours of light could make them more productive.
I felt that access to sustainable energy is a basic human need. For a post disaster community, there will be NGOs to give food, water and shelter, but these communities also need sustainable energy. But when funding is limited, the question is who will receive these solar kits, and how do we make more people benefit eventually?

From the engagement with the various communities, I got to know that some of the farmers in the villages do have extra work on the side. These farmers are also tailors, cobblers and artisans. They work after the day ends, and a few more hours of light would mean extra income for them. This extra income would mean a big difference in terms of earnings, and they could now make more money and save up to rebuild their homes.

Solar Forward is a crowdsourced project that plans to raise funds to bring in 500 low cost solar kits, consisting of Solar Panels, LED bulbs and a charger which can store the energy and charge cell phones. The local team in Nepal will curate 500 people from the various villages damaged by the earthquake, and give them these solar kits. The criteria for the curation are how much more these communities would make if they were given a solar kit.
If the family would earn at least US$1 more per day, just by having 4 more hours of light, and they would save the extra $1 a day, in 60 days, they would have US$60, which could buy another kit for someone else in their village.

If this family would agree to save up and buy another kit to benefit someone else in the village that would have financial gains when they receive the kit, they would be a potential candidate to receive the solar kit. This is testing a pay it forward model, which transforms the victim of an earthquake from a passive receiver of aid, to an active participant in the recovery process, empowering them to support others in their villages.

Working with Nepal Innovation Lab, studies on success or failure of the project, and how the community reacts to the pay it forward model will be studied and the results shared.

There is also a concern for those who do need the solar kit, but cannot commit to saving an extra US$1 a day. Many families could however, save up US$0.30 – US$0.50 a day. These families would be part of the phase 2 of the Solar Forward project. Once the initial 500 solar panels arrive, the cost of shipping, customs clearance would be confirmed. And we can have the exact price of each of these panels delivered to Nepal.

The local Nepal team is also now looking at finding foundations and various institutions to be bank guarantors. As the communities are out of the banking system, it is very hard for them to get a US$50 loan for the solar kit. Having a bank guarantor would allow them to access the bank loan. And after building credit by paying off the loans, these communities could be integrated back into the banking system and have access to more loans.

The initial calculations show that they can pay a US$50 loan in as little as 7 months if they save US$0.30 a day. And the other benefit would be that after paying off the loan, the communities could also build up a credit history for them to have access to the banking system.
Lastly, for those who may not even save US$0.30 a day, they can also access microfinance, which will train them in running a business or other skills which will help them generate income, and the microfinance companies could them put them on a microfinance loan, allowing them access to solar energy.

This project is still ongoing, and the results will be made available once the project is completed. 

If you would like to contribute to Solar Forward, the fund raising page is here. 

-- Robin Low