Written by IEEE | June 7, 2019 | Updated: September 2, 2021
In some parts of the world, electric grids are unreliable, operating for six hours a day and forcing villagers to rely on expensive and dangerous kerosene lanterns. As a further consequence of a lack of electricity, many of these places also have limited access to clean water.
To help improve the lives of people under these circumstances, IEEE Smart Village (ISV) works to empower marginalized communities through access to reliable electricity, broad-based education, women’s empowerment and market-based business development. IEEE Smart Village is an IEEE Foundation Signature Program.
To do this, ISV provides seed funding to carefully-selected community entrepreneurs on the merits of their business plans and 10-year vision for scale. The goal is to create the greatest impact on people through electrification, education and enterprise development. Many of the ISV volunteers are IEEE members.
Since the inception of this work, 282 villages have been powered with over a megawatt of clean energy.
Here’s a great overview of one such project, called Shakti Empowerment Solutions (SES), an ISV entrepreneurial project spinoff from United for Hope, a well-established non-profit already providing rich education, clean water service and women’s programs:
Started in 2016 and located in India’s state of Uttar Pradesh, SES has supplanted diesel power with a solar-powered water treatment facility and Wi-Fi enabled community center near the village of Tirmasahun.
With the SES addition of a 18.9kW solar power plant and an electric vehicle for delivering rental batteries (that can power small appliances and clean lighting), this development model works to improve living standards by identifying products and services that can be produced and distributed within local communities, bolstering vocational training, entrepreneurship, and leadership, and ultimately making development sustainable both socially and environmentally.
The center’s computer lab supports digital literacy and, as an Internet café, helps support SES. United for Hope has been recognized by the UN for its work in bringing digital services to rural communities. Revenue is also generated through the center’s guest house, which gives tourists the opportunity to be a part of the community and observe the projects first hand.
In addition to these ventures, the United for Hope center is a hub for education – its classroom educates children from the poorest families, as well as women and girls with district-wide work around menstrual hygiene and gender sensitivity.
To IEEE Life Fellow Ray Larsen, IEEE Smart Village co-founder, the future is bright for SES: “SES recently won a competition for a donation of 20kW worth of solar panels from a company in Singapore with which it plans to set up a local business incubation center close to the town on several acres of leased land.”
Once the pilot phase is complete, SES will look to scale to 10 villages in five years, and 41 communities by 2027. The social entrepreneurs trained through the project will be critical to this successful expansion.
“Ultimately,” Larsen says, “this work is important to IEEE because although the electricity business potential for surrounding villages has yet to be reached, significant progress is being made towards all the major goals. We still have much to learn from this venture.”