As the product of a Catholic Jesuit institution (Go BC!) the value of reflection has been dutifully engrained in me, so I’d like to take this opportunity to share some thoughts on the experience and what it meant to me.
One of my favorite teachers once told me that life is 90% preparation and 10% opportunity. If you would have told me a few years ago that I would be building solar businesses in rural West Africa I might have laughed at you, but thanks to CWS, my teammate Ben, and some great mentors – a concept that was once beyond my wildest dreams is now my reality and years of interest and passion and “preparation” were finally given an opportunity.
The decision over a year ago to look into Solar Energy was exciting and surprisingly easy. Countries across Africa, including Ghana, are besieged by almost constant sunlight and Solar Power has been noted in several publications including the New York Times as the best option in bringing power to regions in Africa considered “Off the Grid”. What was missing was a sustainable method of introducing solar to these regions.
Ben and I realized a gap in the “market” and all the pieces were already in place to fill it. Using the best components of the Water Program we began to adapt what had been done in the past to meet the unique demands of power. Once we had a clear vision, things began to fall in place. Ghana was surprisingly ready for solar technology with a number of distributors to choose from. Members of the community were already familiar with the concept and already had appliances that would benefit from a charging station.
Obviously we hit some bumps along the way but were able to overcome them to create a great finished product. Something that is already paying dividends – Our engineers Salima and Chang-Chang are already earning almost 4 times their monthly salary.
As a young 20-something trying to make it in New York City – this project was the perfect reminder of what my own passions are. We are all looking for fulfillment in life and part of finding that is dignified work. Working on something I believed it and took pride in, and that had intrinsic and extrinsic value was incredibly rewarding. And what’s even better is I believed I helped provided dignified work to the women of Wambong as well. Hopefully bringing them some added fulfillment and joy.
My work in Africa started over 5 years ago doing community development work in Kenya. From that first experience I’ve been hooked, looking for additional opportunities to get involved and trying to formulate a career around international development. In 2012 I had the pleasure of being a Community Water Solutions Fellow and was immersed in the culture of Ghana while learning the value of social enterprise and local entrepreneurship. Now, with the creation and launch of InnovaSun I’m confident that international development will always be a part of my story and part of me. The sense of pride that I’ve felt these past few weeks is rejuvenating and after this I really feel like I can do anything.
Now, InnovaSun is planning additional pilots over the course of the next six months, tweaking various components of the program to find a full proof formula for delivering solar electricity to rural communities. Will we switch the lanterns that are distributed? Will we adjust the business model to rent out charged appliances? Will we sell charged batteries? All excited possibilities that could eventually become the norm. It’s humbling to imagine the growth of the program, and to think of the potential impact across the region. I’m so grateful to have been a part of this experience and to continue to be a part of growth and innovation in Ghana. Who knows where this will end up, but I’m excited to find out!
Finally, in honor of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday – I wanted to take this opportunity to give thanks to all of those who supported Ben and me during this process.
To Kate Clopeck and the CWS Board – thank you for your guidance and mentorship. Our pilot would have looked pretty different and in the end probably much less successful had it not been for your coaching and collaboration.
To our Sponsors and those that helped fund our grant – thank you for believing in the CWS mission and a team of two young upstarts. While I like to think Ben and I had some great ideas we know that without you we would still be at home playing with batteries.
To Shak – Your stories and antics kept us laughing day-to-day, and if it weren’t for you, we’d stillbe sitting in front of the chief nodding politely. Our success belongs as much to you as it does to anyone.
To Salima and Chang-Chang – Your perseverance in serving your community and your desire to learn were an inspiration to me and taught me some much needed strength and humility.
To Brianan and the CWS Staff – Thank you for welcoming us into your homes and your communities. Your unwavering support and hospitality helped us through some pretty stressful days, and reminded this New Yorker the meaning of “community”.
To our friends and family – Thanks for encouraging us (read: putting up with us) through this long and daunting process, for listening to us rattle on and on about wires, for reading all our blog posts, for sometimes pretending to be interested even when you weren’t and for just being there start to finish. If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.
“This is not the end, this is not even the beginning of the end, but it is perhaps the end of the beginning” – Winston Churchill