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climate change

SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP AS SPIRITUALITY

SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP AS SPIRITUALITY

Over the summer, Miller Center accompanied over 150 social enterprises through our accelerator programs to help them discern pathways to scale their impact as they serve the poor, protect the planet, and economically empower women.

Bay Area Boost (June 2018)

Bay Area Boost (June 2018)

We worked with Jesuits in Cameroon and Benin to accelerate more than 60 community-based enterprises that support women farmers and artisans and provide IT training to women. In partnership with Catholic Charities, we ran a Bay Area Boost for 32 social services organizations and enterprises. For ten days in August, we hosted 26 entrepreneurs from 18 social enterprises on the Santa Clara University campus as part of our 9-month GSBI® In-Residence accelerator program. Over 150 “friends and family” welcomed them at Testarossa Winery, site of the historic Novitiate Winery, an enterprise of Jesuits in formation for almost a century. 240 impact investors, mentors, and guests attended our GSBI Investor Showcase and our social enterprises had on average 3.6 investor meetings each. Our 18 2018 Global Social Benefit Fellows returned from 7 weeks in Ghana, Uganda, Rwanda, India, and Zambia conducting action research for GSBI alumni social enterprises. Indeed, it’s been an amazing summer of walking with change leaders around the world.

2018 Miller Center annual report

2018 Miller Center annual report

Witnessing social entrepreneurs discern growth plans is a spiritual experience for me. Because their intention is for the greater good – to improve, transform, or save lives of people living in poverty, their work is powered by love and compassion. As we accompany them through this process, we see what more we can do to help others, a manifestation of the notion of magis. They are architects of hope, the theme of Miller Center’s 2018 Annual Report.

After I chaired a panel on mobilizing resources to help refugees at the Third Vatican Impact Investing Conference this summer, people asked me about my faith. Similar questions arose following my welcoming comments at our August GSBI events. I describe myself as spiritual, not religious, as you can witness from the story of my communion experience at St. Peter’s tomb. Because we are multi-dimensional and intersectional in our identities, so too is our spirituality. This I am sure of: social entrepreneurship is a core component of my spirituality.

Wildfire smoke blankets California  Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Earth Science Data and Information System (ESDIS) project

Wildfire smoke blankets California
Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Earth Science Data and Information System (ESDIS) project

The view from my home in Sonoma County is obscured by smoke drifting down from Mendocino County, Oregon, British Columbia; a hurricane hurls towards Hawai’i, where I have planned a brief dive vacation next week. Climate change is affecting our lives, but it affects the poor the most.

Refugees flee violence driven by hunger, thirst, political corruption, greed, power; many have nowhere to go, rejected by those who claim moral authority. There is much reason to lose hope.

Despite the smoke, I prepare for Friday afternoon yoga, putting on a soft t-shirt with a Jimi Hendrix quote: “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.”

The opportunity to accompany architects of hope is proximity to the power of love, and that connects us all. We invite you to join Miller Center on this incredible journey.

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Solve Energy Poverty, Solve Climate Change?

Solve Energy Poverty, Solve Climate Change?

By the end of the recent GSBI in-residence program, I was feeling energized, appreciative, and – on one question – flummoxed. It was a fleeting, rhetorical question: Was my focus solving poverty or solving climate change? I’m a new apostle of simplified messaging, but on this point, ‘both’ still seems the right answer.

“The poor cannot afford poor solutions,” says social entrepreneur Runa Khan. In an era of climate change, none of us can afford poor energy solutions. Happily, clean energy is now nearly universally the most cost-effective way to generate electricity. We do not need to choose between cheap, high-quality and clean. They are the same.

I work in Haiti, building electricity systems in towns that have never before had grid power. I’m often surprised when people separate energy poverty from climate change. I get a good laugh out of my US clean energy friends when I gently tease, “It’s easier to build a ‘town-sized, solar-powered smart grid in rural Haiti than it is in [Washington, DC / Santa Clara / Insert any major grid-connected city name here].” They know it’s true. Of course, I face different challenges, but building something from scratch is always easier than disrupting the status quo. There is no incumbent infrastructure or utility business model in the towns where I work, so I get to collaborate with local and international partners to think through what the best system could be. Building self-contained off-grid utility systems, we get to face many of the ‘big grid’ challenges on a micro scale. Is 100% clean energy possible? Yes. Is storage essential? For solar microgrids, yes. Are clean energy microgrids exciting elements of resilient power systems of the future? Definitely.

First and foremost, building energy access is about solving poverty. Electricity is not sufficient for prosperity, but it is essential. In rural Haiti, families without electricity are spending 10% of their income on kerosene and candles for lighting. (In the US we generally spend less than 0.5% of our income on lighting.) Around the world, over a billion people have no electricity, with tragic consequences. Without electricity, there is very little opportunity.

Solving energy poverty can also help solve climate change. The two issues are linked. “Sustainable energy is opportunity – it transforms lives, economies and the planet,” reads Sustainable Development Goal 7. That Goal is summarized as “affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.”

Clean energy microgrids can directly reduce CO2 and black carbon emissions by replacing kerosene lamps and diesel generators. If electric cooking pilots are successful, they can also replace charcoal. Though wick-based kerosene lamps emit only modest CO2, they are significant emitters of atmospheric ‘black carbon’, a strong climate warmer.

EarthSpark takes a ‘  feminist electrification’   approach to energy access, intentionally leveraging the arrival of electricity to benefit women. Here, Rosane Jean-Jacques, a grid ambassador, sells electricity credits from a tablet.

EarthSpark takes a ‘feminist electrification’ approach to energy access, intentionally leveraging the arrival of electricity to benefit women. Here, Rosane Jean-Jacques, a grid ambassador, sells electricity credits from a tablet.

Clean energy microgrids can also chart the course for grid decarbonization. Ironically, important grid innovation may come from remote villages that have not yet seen electricity. Where there is no incumbent infrastructure, there is an opportunity to build energy systems with today's best technologies and business models. These models that leverage clean energy, storage, smart grid, and customer participation can be adapted to inform the evolving utility business models in established markets. For example, both Homer Energy’s microgrid software tool and SparkMeter’s low-cost smart meters were both initially developed for stand-alone microgrids and are now seeing applications in central grids.

Of course, solving energy poverty will not alone solve the climate change crisis. There are many levers we should be pulling simultaneously, only some of which are addressed by solving energy poverty. Indeed, Project Drawdown‘s list of 100 climate solutions rank “microgrids” a lowly #78. But an integrated electrification approach involves not only microgrids but also rooftop solar (#10), clean cookstoves (#21), LED lighting (#33), and empowering women and girls (#6). Economic development enabled by the arrival of electricity can also influence agriculture, forestry, and many other key solutions.

To be sure, if tackling energy poverty did not also address climate change, it would still be worth doing. Regions with high energy poverty, in general, have had almost no role in causing the current climate crisis.  Poor countries should not be saddled with solving global emissions problems, but, because distributed clean energy systems are now cheaper and faster to build than the alternatives, poor countries have the opportunity to leapfrog straight into smart, clean, efficient systems. It just doesn’t make sense to build 20th century power systems in 2018.

Though more and more are getting built, microgrids are not easy yet. From California to Puerto Rico to India, Africa, and Haiti, proponents of microgrids are struggling with technical, participant, and policy challenges. That, to me, is precisely why energy access microgrids are so exciting. Clean energy microgrids are early-stage, but they hold enormous potential. When we solve these challenges and start to mainstream microgrids, we will have made meaningful progress towards solving both energy poverty and climate change.

About Allison Archambault
Allison is president of EarthSpark International, a non-profit organization incubating businesses that solve energy poverty. EarthSpark has built a town-sized, solar-powered smart grid in rural Haiti and has spun off a smart meter company, SparkMeter, which now serves microgrid operators in 22 countries.  She previously worked on large-scale renewable energy siting and grid integration and with an early clean tech company combining distributed energy storage, solar PV, and energy management. She holds a B.A. (hons) from Tufts University and a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins. She is a member of the 2018 GSBI In-Residence accelerator cohort at Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship.

 


Banner photo (Les Anglais, Haiti): EarthSpark microgrids run on solar power and serve everyone from tiny households to pico-industry in rural towns.

Photo credits: EarthSpark International