From corporate to community - Janu Ramchandani of Kinect Energy Group, discusses how CSR initiatives can have a transformative impact on indigenous populations in areas that need help.
Did you know around 1.2. billion people – almost the population of India – do not have access to electricity? And 2.8 billion have to rely on wood or other biomass to cook and heat their homes?
Nigeria, the largest oil-producing country in Africa, is second only to India in the number of people living without electricity: a staggering 82.4 million.
Energy poverty is harsh, dangerous and in many cases life-threatening.
Food becomes inedible quickly and vaccines unviable if you can't keep them refrigerated; medical equipment is often useless if you can't plug it in and communication with the outside world becomes a huge challenge, if not impossible, when you don't have the means to power devices the developed world so often takes for granted.
There's the safety aspect in terms of lighting and security, too. We're not just talking about keeping inhospitable and rugged terrain lit to avoid stumbles and falls. Women across the world are often at risk of attack if they're not home by sundown, while creatures such as scorpions and snakes also pose a very real threat at night as they lurk in the shadows.
But with the right mindset, expertise, funding, innovation and collaboration we can successfully take the clean energy revolution to hard-to-reach areas in need of help, having a transformative impact on indigenous populations in the process.
When Kinect Energy Group brought sustainable electricity to more than 1,500 students across remote areas of Karen State, Burma, we knew we'd be achieving far more than merely helping them stay up late to do their homework.
The Karen people and the Burmese Military have been in conflict for more than 60 years, resulting in devastating loss of life and a hugely detrimental effect on their infrastructure and society.
Education is crucial if current and future generations are to understand their human rights better, communicate their point of view, have the confidence to stand up for themselves and be proactive in making a difference.
The solar panels we introduced now generate sustainable electricity supply to four schools across this hard-to-reach, mountainous and politically fragile region of Southeast Asia, serving local communities and neighbouring villages between Burma and Thailand.
Contemporary schools are capable of bringing about positive change in the individual, the wider community and the entire state, empowering the Karen people to start reconstructing civil society, stabilise the political climate and ultimately work towards establishing lasting peace in what is currently a troubled and unofficial cease-fire war zone.
Karen pupils no longer have to rely on candles and oil lamps to study outside of daylight hours, which in turn has reduced the very real likelihood of their wooden or bamboo-built houses, schools and dormitories accidentally catching fire.
Enhanced lighting has also reduced the risk of disturbing dangerous nocturnal wildlife, while electricity has improved the quality and pace of learning by extending study hours and enabling access to internet.
The project was funded entirely by Nordic customers of our Track My Electricity™ platform – an ambitious scheme that enables corporate energy consumers to source renewable electricity reliably and transparently from power plants of their choice. For every MWh of clean energy their customers consume, €0,10 goes towards funding clean, sustainable energy in energy poor areas where with no hope for electrification in the near future.
Jungle treks, terrible roads, monsoon season flooding and landmines were just a few of the treacherous challenges we came up against during the three years it took to complete.
But by collaborating with Solbakken, a non-profit organisation specialising in renewable energy and water access, our efforts have proven that sharing knowledge and expertise globally means CSR initiatives can overcome even the trickiest of challenges in terms of logistics, location and terrain.
Educating the locals on how renewable energy works, how to use electricity safely, and how to maintain the system enables them to fulfil self-sustainable lives, but the ramifications of success go well beyond helping to improve indigenous populations' standards of living and education; they can hold the key to wider progressive and high-impact socio-economic change.
A case in point is another of our Track My Electricity™ achievements, this time in Cusco, Peru. Hard-working Alpaca farmers and their families, living in incredibly remote areas, now have enough solar energy to spin their animal's wool into artisanal yarn themselves, instead of having to sell the raw product on to intermediaries, thus benefiting from much higher profit margins.
Access to clean electricity in this instance has increased sustainability, facilitated independence and boosted productivity.
Ultimately, CSR initiatives that bring about clean energy production empower communities, businesses and individuals to flourish and thrive by tackling unemployment and poverty through generating stable, good quality jobs – and more of them.
Clean energy positively impacts societal progress without depleting natural resources, causing substantial pollution or contributing to climate change, all of which is great news for air quality and a healthier standard of living locally and globally.
Furthermore, technologies such as solar panels and micro-hydro generate affordable and stable sources of energy that are untouched by the wildly fluctuating costs associated with fossil fuels, in terms of raw material extraction and refinement.
They're also easy to maintain and privy to ever-decreasing production and installation costs, making them indispensable when devising sustainable, long-term solutions for communities that don't have standard grid-based electrification.
CSR initiatives in areas that need help can have a transformative impact on indigenous populations by alleviating energy poverty and changing lives, economies and prospects for the better. From corporate to community, they're a wonderful example of progressive creative thinking and something developed nations should be doing more of.
Janu Ramchandani is Team Leader for Sustainability Services EMEA at Kinect Energy Group.