Graeme Newell

Grameen Shakti is a solar powered social enterprise

Challenges to Renewable Energy

Grameen Shakti is a renewable energy social enterprise based in Bangladesh. Its purpose is to improve the lives of rural Bangladesh citizens by providing a sustainable, low cost energy source for villages and families. Energy sources provided by GS include biogas plants and solar power systems for homes. GS teaches women to use these renewable sources for cooking. Without biogas or solar power, the women have to cook over an open flame. This exposes them and anyone inside the dwelling to potentially harmful pollutants.

Global warming and a power shortage are both enormous issues affecting the future health and safety of Bangladesh. People living in rural areas have almost no access to electricity. These rural areas are home to 80% of Bangladesh’s people. Nearly 75% of Bangladesh’s population is living without electricity. Adding to the problem, the cost of installing renewable energy sources is often prohibitive. Professor Muhammad Yunus founded GS in 1995 to begin tackling these problems.

Building a Team With a Plan

Yunnus visited the US to get ideas and begin lining up funders. Yunus’s contacts in the US got him in touch with energy companies in Sri Lanka and Nepal. Together, they created an action plan for bringing power to Bangladesh, and reducing some of the effects of global warming. One company made the solar panels, while another provided the accessories needed for installation. A third company supplied the battery needed to power each solar unit. In 1995, with its initial rollout, GS provided 20 solar home systems in Bangladesh.

To make the solar and biogas programs available, the GS team had to provide options to homeowners for payment. Rural Bangladesh citizens do not have many financial resources. The new social enterprise allowed customers to pay the installation costs up front, repay over a five year period, or repay in a different monthly plan with higher per month payments.

Making the Impossible Possible

It is clear from learning about Professor Yunus that he has the heart and drive of a social enterprise founder. When he first approached the problems of energy scarcity and global warming, they seemed impossible to solve. Yunus lined up funding, formed an international team, and created a viable plan along with the team. He focused on solar power as a consumer product, not as something to be given away or donated.

Yunus found ways to expand his social enterprise. GS now provides education and job training, especially for women and young people. Homeowners learn to install and maintain the biogas, cookstove, and solar power systems themselves.

As Yunus and his team built on their initial premise, their confidence grew. This increased confidence led to an increased impact.

What about you? Is there a problem or challenge in your community that seems too difficult to take on? With the proper planning and the right amount of confidence, perhaps you can make a difference for your neighbors the way Grameen Shakti has for theirs.

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Grameen Shakti explains the problems with energy sources in Bangladesh. He then shows how they have solved these problems using solar energy and biogas fuels.

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