As Pope Francis Prepares to Address Congress, Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship Rallies Action on the Global Energy-Access Crisis

Photo Source: Huffington Post

Photo Source: Huffington Post

SANTA CLARA, Calif., Sept. 22, 2015 —In conjunction with the historic address to the joint session of Congress by Pope Francis, the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University is spearheading a fresh yet proven approach to the energy access crisis. Keying off one of the main thrusts of the recent encyclical by Pope Francis, the Miller Center is helping to refocus efforts in Silicon Valley and beyond to solving energy poverty — the lack of safe, affordable energy — for 2.6 billion people globally, or one-third of the human population. The Miller Center is joined in this endeavor by social entrepreneurship organizations worldwide that include Shell Foundation, the World Bank, Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, and the Solar Electric Light Company (SELCO) India.
“We believe that solving the problem of sustainable energy access requires reframing the problem: Instead of seeing the 2.6 billion sufferers of energy poverty as potential aid recipients, we see a total market of more than 500 million potential consumers for public and private energy solutions,” said Thane Kreiner, Ph.D., executive director, Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship. “By reframing the issue in this way, it becomes an ideal focus for locally based enterprises, which also provide dignified livelihoods. In fact, we would go a step further and declare that it’s a moral imperative for successful entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley to apply their skills and proven practices to help eradicate the suffering of the world’s poorest people, who will be most impacted by climate change.”
Despite billions of development and charity dollars spent on energy access by government aid agencies, foundations and corporations, the fact remains that billions of poor people lack the energy they need to survive and thrive. The Miller Center has synthesized tangible steps to encourage and support social enterprises that provide clean energy access, presenting them in a new white paper, Universal Energy Access: An Enterprise System Approach. The paper is available for download at
Addressing the Human Needs of Energy Poverty
Energy poverty takes many forms and has devastating effects on the world’s poor. For example:

  • Studies have found that children doing homework by the light of a smoky kerosene lamp do as much damage to their lungs as a two-pack-a-day cigarette smoker. (Source: World Health Organization, Lighting Africa Report)
  • Globally, household air pollution from cooking kills more than 4 million people every year and sickens millions more. (Source: World Health Organization)
  • Collecting cooking fuels is often a labor-intensive burden borne by women and children that results in deforestation.
  • 1.3 billion people lack access to even small amounts of electricity, and another billion lack access to reliable electricity. 

At the same time, social enterprises are already making a significant dent in the problem. Examples include:

  • The solar home systems sold by Iluméxico, a Mexican social enterprise, increase family incomes by 20 percent.
  • Eco-Fuel Africa’s green charcoal saves 19,000 families $3.4 million in energy expenses while mitigating over 500,000 tons of CO2 emissions.
  • School performance has improved 25 percent for children who have solar lighting in their homes. (Source: Ilumexico, the Centre for Public Health at Liverpool John Moores University) 

“In addition to the sustainable energy solutions and services we provide to underserved households and businesses, we are dispelling three myths associated with sustainable technology and rural customers: 1) Poor people cannot afford sustainable technologies; 2) poor people cannot maintain sustainable technologies; and 3) social ventures cannot be run as commercial entities,” said Harish Hande, chairman of SELCO-India. “The more than 300,000 households (at least 1.2 million people) who have purchased our solar energy systems would argue otherwise.”
“We are creating a thriving global market for clean and efficient household cooking solutions that save lives, improve livelihoods, empower women, and protect the environment,” said Radha Muthiah, chief executive officer, Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. “Our market-based approach allows us to address household air pollution at a scale that can have a meaningful impact. We’re marching toward our goal of 100 million households adopting clean and efficient cookstoves and fuels by 2020.”
“We believe that sustainable energy globally is both the biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity of our time,” said Sarah Butler-Sloss, founder director of Ashden. “The Ashden Awards program showcases and celebrates the success of energy trailblazers and social enterprises that are rolling out sustainable energy solutions to those who need them most, and the award winners have transformed the lives of more than 45 million people in the UK and developing countries since 2001."
“Through analysis of reports by important participants throughout the energy access sector, we have seen strong agreement with and support for the four-tactic strategy we present in our enterprise system approach,” said Andrew Lieberman, director of new programs at the Miller Center. “While the roles and some specifics of these ecosystem actors vary, collectively they point to the emerging consensus we believe already exists for focusing on establishing and scaling energy enterprises as the best way to address energy poverty.”