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Jan 22

Grameen's Clean Energy Program Wins Zayed Prize

Posted by: Betsy Teutsch

Betsy Teutsch

 Journalist Marc Gunther is the guru of sustainability and is reporting from Masdar City at the Abu Dhabi World Future Energy Summit, where he met up with Dipal Barua, managing director of Grameen Shakti which just received the Zayed Future Energy Prize.

Here is Marc's column which you can read at his blog, as well:

 grameen shakti"Sustainable development" is a buzzword tossed around by the UN and global NGOs. Typically it's no more than a buzzword or, at best, a distant goal. Anyone who can actually promote development in a way that's sustainable deserves a prize.

That's why Dipal Barua just got one.

Barua is managing director of Grameen Shakti, a nonprofit in Bangladesh that adeptly marries two goals: helping people escape poverty and protecting the planet.

This week, Barua was named the winner of the first $1.5 million Zayed Future Energy Prize, an annual award established last year by the government of Abu Dhabi in an attempt to promote energy innovation.

Grameen Shakti-the word comes from a Sanskrit root meaning energy, force or empowerment-has enabled as many as 2 million people in Bangladesh to light their homes using solar power. It has helped thousands more use chicken or cow dung either to make electricity or as a fuel in cook stoves that are efficient, safe and clean.

Like the new president of the United States, Barua also sees renewable energy as a way to create jobs.

"One hundred thousand green jobs is my dream," he told me, when we met during the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi.

Barua, who is 54, started Grameen Shakti in 1996. A self-sustaining nonprofit that runs like a business, Grameen Shakti was spun off from the better-known Grameen Bank, which with its founder, Muhammad Yunus, was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 2006. Barua, who has been with Grameen Bank since its beginnings in the 1970s, remains an executive there.

Barua told me that about 70% of the 150 million people who live in Bangladesh have no electricity. They typically use polluting kerosene lamps to light their homes at night.

"I tell them that for the cost of kerosene, you can buy a solar system," he said.

The economics work like this: Total cost of a rooftop solar photovoltaic panel (imported from Japan), a battery and the required electronics is about $350 to $400. Customers typically put 10-15% down and pay the rest in monthly payments for three years. By then, they own a system that should last 20 years, without fuel costs. The panel makes enough electricity to power a few lights, a black-and-white TV and, most important, a cell phone. "Everyone wants a mobile phone," Barua says.

Some systems are shared by several homes, while others are used to power small businesses. About 200,000 have been installed, and the business is growing fast. A $750,000 loan from the World Bank helped get Grameen Shakti started, but the operation now pays for itself.

"Any profits, we recycle," says Barua.

Grameen Shakti has about 3,000 employees, most of them women who are trained to maintain and repair the solar systems. Several years ago, the NGO expanded to offer a biogas program, which uses cow dung or poultry waste to make electricity. The organization also makes and sells cooking stoves that reduce indoor air pollution and burn less wood, reducing deforestation.

Barua told me that Grameen Shakti is exploring the business of carbon finance, as an additional revenue source. The nonprofit would sell carbon credits-based on how many tons of CO2 its products prevent from entering the atmosphere-to companies or people in the west who want to offset their own production of greenhouse gases. Grameen Shakti has talked with the World Bank and with Climate Care, a carbon developer now owned by JP Morgan Chase, about selling credits either into the voluntary or regulated market.

So is this really sustainable development? Up to a point. Of course it's a good thing for poor people get electricity from solar power. The thing is, the electricity powers a mobile phone or TV that isn't sustainable, and then one thing then leads to another and, before you know it, Grameen Shakti's customers will be wanting iPods and dishwashers and cars, just like the rest of us. No wonder sustainable development remains such an elusive goal.


Aug 01

Summit Reflections: Transparency

Posted by: Dan Lundmark

Dan Lundmark

This past week at the summit a major topic was interest rate transparency, as some MFIs have come under fire for charging relatively high rates and allowing "mission drift" to move them to a priority of high profits instead of the original mission of poverty alleviation. Long time microfinance insider Chuck Waterfield has taken the initiative to address these concerns, launching MicroFinance Transparency.

A highlight for me was the lively discussion between Professor Muhammed Yunus, Damian von Stauffenberg (the founder of MicroRate), and Chuck. They debated the importance of the profit motive in growing microfinance, with Yunus holding firm to the ideal of not making a profit, seeking only to break-even and pass any potential profits back to the clients. In my view microfinance has always been a profitable business proposition, with profit driving the ability to expand the reach of poverty alleviation efforts. Perhaps the debate should be reframed around reinvesting profits to expand reach vs. passing profits on to outside investors. Or is it possible to do both?

(Photo: Denise Hughes)

 The topic is getting great press in the Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, Forbes, and many more (100+ stories listed when I searched Google News).  It's great to see this positive move coming from inside the Microfinance community to address these issues now rather than later.
With current energy price pressures, environmental degradation, and climate change looming, we at GreenMicrofinance hope to lead a similar movement among MFIs, disclosing standardized metrics of environmental impact and sustainablility.

Jul 30

My Chat with Ingrid Munro

Posted by: Elizabeth Israel

Elizabeth Israel

Over the past days we have been video-taping various folks here at the conference. I had the privilege to meet and chat with Ingrid Munro founder of JamiiBoro in Kenya, a member organization that works with and uplifts street beggars.
The story of those who have been supported by JamiiBoro is an inspiration – whether through microfinance program or through her housing program and Levuka, a program for alcoholics. Another amazing initiative is Kaputei Town, a housing initiative for some 2,000 families, that will provide employment, housing, and a safe environment in which to live. Ingrid was able to secure around 290 acres of prime land in Kisaju for this project.
Beyond the conversation of our work over the past 28 years with the poor, two white-haired grandmothers here at the Summit shared stories of our children and grandchildren.
Ingrid has 5 children, some of whom were adopted.  My oldest son and his wife from Vermont are adopting Poojah, an Indian six year old girl who was abandoned in the streets of New Delhi two years ago. She will be my eighth grandchild and will be well loved.  As I encounter street beggars and children again, I will always be reminded of both Ingrid’s work and Poojah’s early years.

Jul 29

Panel: Microfinance, Their Clients, and Clean Energy

Posted by: Elizabeth Israel

Elizabeth Israel

Today was a breakthrough!  Since 2002, GreenMicrofinance has been participating and leading panels on microfinance and the environment at various Microcredit Summit gatherings- Bangladesh 2004; Chile 2005, Halifax 2006, and today in Bali. 

During today's session on Microfinance, Their Clients, and Clean Energy: Making a Positive Impact on the Environment there was a definite shift in interest and ‘energy' around the topic.  THE LIGHTS ARE ON!

Craig Wilson from The Foundation for Development Cooperation based in Australia and my colleague, Kathleen Robbins from GreenMicrofinance, provided a macro overview of moving forward with clean energy and the microfinance.   

We then shifted to the local perspective.  Paul Thomas, Founder and Exective Director,  Evangelical Social Action Forum (ESAF), India, and Chitta Ranjan Chaki, Deputy General Manager, Grameen Shakti, Bangladesh, both provided very comprehensive overviews of their clean energy initiatives.  

ESAF in partnership with GreenMicrofinance is developing a clean energy lending program; they recently completed a market survey of 1,200 clients in four States in which they work.  A couple of highlights from the survey include:

  • Majority of these people use firewood for cooking purposes; even if they do have LPG connections they prefer to use firewood stoves (comparatively cheaper source)
  • Waste generated in each household could be processed to produce renewable clean energy.

One I can't help but be impressed with the work of Grameen Shakti, which incorporated in 1996, and which provides energy services in remote rural areas of Bangladesh. GS sells, installs, and maintains solar photovoltaic systems, and has biogas, solar thermal, and wind programs.  

The session was very well attended with about 45 participants from government, NGOs, energy service providers, national banks, advocacy groups, and microfinance institutions.  We invited the group to post on this blog some of their thoughts and questions to further the dialogue on this panel theme.   

From my own perspective, I think we need to clearly identify our vision within the microfinance sector, continue to develop innovative solutions, and promote champions (like Paul Thomas and Chitta Chaki), who will reenergize communities to work together to conserve our natural environment and to promote environmental justice.  

Jul 27

Summit Day T minus 1 and counting...

Posted by: Dan Lundmark

Tagged in: Poverty , Microfinance , Impact , Environment

Dan Lundmark

Flying USA to Bali is one of the longest flights possible on the planet, at about 20 hours in flight. Any further and it's quicker to come around from the other side. It was then great to see a familiar face during the layover in Hong Kong - it turns out Sam Daley-Harris and Eileen White Read of the Microcredit Summit Campaign were also on my flight! While waiting to process an entry visa, I had a chance to chat with a tourist from Australia about current events. She was excited about Obama, with comparisons to Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy and the possible impact of his campaign. That led to a conversation about microfinance and the difference between 'trickle-up' vs. 'trickle-down' approaches to addressing economic, social, and environmental challenges. Our conversation concluded with the idea that government policy plays a large role, however local actions driven by economic incentives can bring the broadest impact. After a Rp. 50,000.00 taxi ride (that's $5US) In Bali on the way to lunch with Denise Hughes today we ran into Mr. Bambang Isamawan of Gema PKM, Professor Muhammad Yunus of Grameen Bank, and Sam Daley-Harris.

  (from left: Katheleen, Mr Isamawan, Professor Yunus, Sam, Elizabeth, and myself)
Tomorrow the summit begins. We're excited to see where microfinance is going. Please share your thoughts in the comments below. Stay tuned!

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