Category: Blog

Micro-electricity holds its position in the country of hundreds of millions of energy poor people


Sini Numminen visited India Energy Access Summit in Delhi. In the picture above (Photo: The Climate Group) Poonam, a Solar Saheli from Rajasthan, is holding a speech.

India Energy Access Summit 2018 in February in New Delhi gathered hundreds of people working with cleaner fuels and improved energy access for hundreds of millions of energy poor households in India. The speeches and panel sessions touched on energy financing, technologies, policy and social aspects. A consultant presentation forecasted increases in solar lantern sales and a donor organization promised more funds for energy access projects. Bankers discussed financing models.

Voice was given also for women practitioners, often overlooked. As India is a traditional society where women often stay at home taking care of children and preparing food; and thus forming an important energy user group, Still energy providers and entrepreneurs are mainly men. Barefoot College and Frontier Markets are exceptions to this rule and were invited to stage. These initiatives educate women all around the developing world as “solar mamas” and “solar sahelis” who are able construct, maintain and distribute solar systems in their communities.

For me, as well as for the majority of the participants, this event was the arena for meeting collaboration partners and to network. I am a doctoral student having since 2015 researched how small renewable energy technologies perform in Indian villages, in actual environments where they are being used. Currently, I am in the process of interviewing as many Indian micro-grid utilities and entrepreneurs for their technologies, as I can reach. The summit was a must for me to meet these people and to organize interviews. After the summit I took two weeks for visiting micro-grid installations around Northern India. More information on my research is available on my website.

Street vendor by night in Uttar Pradesh using a mobile street lamp. Photo: Sini Numminen

Street vendor by night in Uttar Pradesh using a mobile street lamp. Photo: Sini Numminen

 

Seems like the micro-grid companies in India are in a pending phase. A flagship program of the government is the Saubhagya scheme, under which the distribution grid is expanded to all non-electrified households by the end of 2019. In this program, the role of micro-grid electricity remains unclear. This unclarity in the legal status was articulated in the Summt presentations of the energy entrepreneurs, sometimes bursting out as desperation, as administrative burdens – for example in gaining permits – can be unbelievable astounding.

However, it was rather surprising that the foreseeable effects of the scheme were not much discussed at the Summit sessions. If all households were to be connected, what would remain for the off-grid electrification companies to do anymore? Maybe it went without saying that the scheme is merely a political target and not an implementation plan? Some people I have interviewed have laughed and said that, of course, there will always be non-electrified and under-electrified valleys between the electrified hubs. An aged and inefficient power distribution infrastructure can never host the millions of under-electrified households without a thorough renewal. Power quality and regular blackouts are also a great problem.

There is plenty of room for micro-grid electricity companies to work in also in the future, not only as back-up power providers. I hope the renewal of the grid infrastructure would be done in cooperation with micro-electricity providers. The opportunities in building up a reliable and inter-connected smart grid are huge for India.

 

Sini Numminen
Doctoral Student at Aalto University (Tiina ja Antti Herlin Foundation)
Travel Grants: UniPid FinCEAL+ and TEKES New Global

Gaining insight into energy and sustainability in urban Kenya


 It’s been a few weeks since my arrival in Nairobi, Kenya, where I will spend the spring working on my master’s thesis on the topic of urban energy transitions in emerging markets. In practice, the work mostly involves data collection through in-depth interviews with researchers, decision-makers, industry representatives and other local experts. The insider insights have already proven valuable, as a large part of online information seems to be out of date or otherwise inaccurate.

So far, first-hand observations and interviews with organizations such as African Energy Research Policy Network, UN Habitat and Strathmore Energy Research Centre have provided new perspectives on the topical energy and sustainability matters in Kenya’s capital. A lot remains to be done in the energy sector, as a great number of people either lack access to energy or deal with unreliable supply and high costs. In addition to the challenges with energy adequacy and access, there are visible issues with waste, pollution, housing and transport, with traffic jams clogging the main roads on a daily basis. For example, last Friday a few hours of heavy rain resulted in flooding streets and long power outages.

Despite the prominent challenges that the rapidly growing city has, my first impression of Nairobi has been very positive, especially due to its warm-hearted, joyful and friendly people. My local officemates have also made a good effort in turning me into a Nairobian by teaching me Swahili, making sure I try all the traditional Kenyan dishes and inviting me on their Saturday hike to one of the nearby national parks. Overall, Nairobi is an incredibly diverse and lively city with a lot to experience. After some initial confusion, things here flow smoothly and it’s easy to feel at home in this beautifully chaotic city.

The writer, Erika Forstén, is a master’s student in the Advanced Energy Solutions programme at Aalto University. As part of the New Global team, she is working on her master’s thesis about urban energy transitions in emerging markets, looking at Nairobi as a case study.

Keeping the communication wheel rolling between cultures


To be able to deliver and receive information properly, lines of communication need to be open and active. What if the communication between is interfered by distance and culture? Do we wait for an email response for 3 weeks? Do we face people through other channels of communication?

During 2017, I have probably done so much work on a smartphone than ever before. Not because I like chatting, but because most times I am left with no choice. I have come across situations where the only possibility was to collect some information through Facebook private messages and WhatsApp. Some moments calls for you to act and respond fast.

When working with emerging markets, one had better learn to be flexible and very patient. Being originally from a developing country myself, I noticed that I too need a lot of patience when communicating with local partners and colleagues when in the field.

Communicating with Finnish colleagues when we are all in different continents.

With the world getting more and more hectic, very interesting and so unpredictable, you feel the urge to communicate often with your colleagues especially when in the field. Sometimes you need fresh information from each other; you want your colleagues to participate in team meetings online wherever they are etc.

Thanks to WhatsApp, my communication and information collections from long distances is much easier.

I have had to collect information through WhatsApp chats, WhatsApp calls and when necessary through WhatsApp voice notes. The next thing would be to move the voice notes and the chain of chats to my computer to store the data.

Communication with local partners; simplified by Technology, challenged by Culture

If you have worked with different people across cultures, the challenges of communication must be familiar. Thanks to technology, communication has become much easier than before.

Now if technology has brought the revolution and made it very easy to communicate, where are the communication challenges coming from? In my experience, the number one issue is “culture”.

For many in the North, emails remain to be the best way to communicate with local partners. What if there are no responses? What if one receives only a short email?

I could give an example of the way I would communicate with local partners who are Tanzanians. This is the simplest work for me, as I am also from Tanzania. When I write a mail and there is no response, I will turn into WhatsApp or even Facebook private messages. For some this sounds like invading people’s privacy, but in my culture and the way I would relate with colleagues, it’s not. It is just another way of contacting someone when I am not getting through to him or her through formal emails.

Recently I started sending short voice notes and asked the partners to do the same. This has worked very well. I have been able to receive a lot of information and this is very important for research. Nevertheless, I have been able to connect well with local partners, we have become closer and it is now much easier to discuss different matters.

New Global Project Specialist Emma Nkonoki voice messaging with local partners

When doing research, you need enough data, you want details, which you can analyze and pick out the most relevant ones by yourself. I have had experiences where I would get some information in a short email report and I would immediately sense that there is more to it than this. Through cultural interpretation of information that is written down or recorded it is easy to figure out that there is more to it than that. Most of the time the missing information can easily be said orally and not through writing. Some of us come from cultures that are traditionally not so used to writing much. When you tell us to “talk” / “tell” then we would tell you so much more.

One thing I know is that, it is not about being lazy or unprofessional; it is just the working culture and the general culture deep within people. After so many years of working with development projects, I can honestly say that there is still so much more that the North and the South need to accept and learn from each other in order to be able to work smoothly together. The so-called “ugly truth” is that, due to very strong cultural values from both sides, some things will never change, and we just have to find ways around and through to make our collaboration relationships easier.

Emma Nkonoki, January 2018

STIClab – The House of Innovation enabling young innovators to realize their ideas in Tanzania


Formed and run by the enthusiasm of a professor and a group of students from Dar es Salaam Institute of Technology (DIT), the STICLab forms an unique and enabling environment to experiment and develop innovative solutions to the prevailing issues in Tanzania and beyond. The enthusiasm and entrepreneurial spirit of these people has resulted in a number of businesses in various fields, water being one of the examples.

It was almost three years ago, when we first met people working at the STICLab and at the time, they were participating World Bank’s Negawatt Challenge in Dar es Salaam. The team had built a prototype of a coin-based water vending machine, Maji Pesa, to ease the collection and transparency of water payments at water distribution points. Since, the team has developed Maji Pesa further, and a mobile payment option is included together with a range of other improvements in the technology and business model.

Over 30 of these water ATMs have been sold across Tanzania, and Mr. Njau is one of STICLab’s customers who is now running his water business with the Maji Pesa water ATMs. In the past Mr. Njau would have needed staff to collect the payments, but now the ATMs take care of this automatically, together with tracking the collected revenues and amount of water sold. To this water distribution point Mr. Njau has also established office and retail spaces, which he is renting to other entrepreneurs – these water distribution points often serve as natural meeting points and attract people as they might be the only source of water in the community. Thus, besides providing a source of income for the entrepreneurs of STICLab, the Maji Pesa is enabling its customers to set up transparent water businesses and create hot spots for other businesses to be established around the Maji Pesa water ATMs.

This example of STICLab and Maji Pesa, highlights the importance of supporting young entrepreneurs and building their capacity and networks through e.g. provision of working spaces and laboratories, such as STICLab, as well as programmes, such as the Negawatt Challenge, to build business and technological skills and meet stakeholders, collaboration partners, mentors and funders.

SticLab is a technology innovation centre that provides a futuristic technology development environment for scientists, makers and innovators. The center offers its users full access to lab and Workshop equipments that help them easily do their tasks, starting from idea conception to product and/or service development. More information: http://sticlab.co.tz/.

Negawatt Challenge was a global innovation competition and accelerator programme by The World Bank and other partners. More information: http://www.negawattchallenge.com/.

Anne Hyvärinen

Research under uncertainty casted by the elections in Kenya


The almost deserted campus area the University of Nairobi.

New Global’s Doctoral Researcher Anne Hyvärinen is spending this fall in Kenya, immersing herself into the local environment and gathering insights for her research on water sector innovations and innovation enabling organisations. Currently, the tangled situation with the elections is creating some extra twists and turns to the daily life.

Uncertainty describes the current atmosphere in Nairobi. As the August 8th elections were nullified, the re-run is now scheduled for the 26th of October – already once postponed from the original re-run date of October 17. Since the August vote, demonstrations have been frequent as the Supreme Court annulled the results due to ambiguity in compliance with constitutions and laws. Since, the opposition has been demanding reforms from the electoral commission (IEBC), which has lead into demonstrations around the country. As a further hurdle, the opposition’s candidate pulled out, causing further uncertainty on what will happen. Next Thursday, the latest, we see whether the elections will take place or not.

These hurdles and controversies around the elections are of course influencing the life of Kenyans and others living in Kenya, as well as the economy. During my stay here in Kenya, I am affiliated to the C4DLab at University of Nairobi. At the C4DLab, I have the opportunity to see enthusiastic starting entrepreneurs in the supportive environment created by the Lab, hear about the challenges they face and experience how they can supported to thrive in the future. For the past few weeks, rest of the campus has been almost deserted – as the students have been sent home indefinitely due to unrest. Hopefully, quickly after the elections the campus is back to its bubbly life with all the students around.

Although the situation might seem confusing and mixed messages are heard on the streets, things still roll as usual here, at least mainly. I have been able to collect a good amount of data through interviews at several organizations, such as UNICEF, Water Sector Trust Fund (WSTF), Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) and Kenya Innovative Finance Facility for Water (KIFFWA). The current situation of course brings in an extra twist, and a further topic of discussion with people you meet. As a positive side note, the daily traffic jams have not been quite as terrible– as it seems that some have decided to stay home in the fear of demonstrations. All in all, Nairobi is a vibrant city with lots of things to do and learn, when you just keep out of the places where, for instance, demonstrations might take place.

Akshar Agro Engineering: the story of the groundnut digger


To meet entrepreneur number 4 we had to make again a five-hour drive to Rajkot. In a village 17 km away from Rajkot, we met with Sanjay Tilwa who has developed the Groundnut Digger. It is a machine that eases the harvesting of groundnuts.

In the beginning, the groundnut digger did not reach commercial success and therefore Sanjay decided to develop a plowing machine. He purchased a plowing machine from a large manufacturer and reverse engineered a cheaper version. Now this machine is selling well in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh – despite the competition from established organizations. With these sales, he can fund the company.

When we discussed the future, Sanjay told he had bold plans to grow and believed that the groundnut digger will be the machine that will help him achieve the goals. Sanjay explained that there is no standard measurement but that he has to make customizations for each region’s groundnut farmers. Currently he is making tailored solutions according to a farmer’s wishes but in order to grow, he said, he has to develop one model that fits all.

Related to the future, we also discussed financial matters. Sanjay had been approached by his bank two years back because his financial records had been stable for a while and the bank wanted to offer him a loan. I wanted to know why he had not gone to the bank earlier and his answer was short – he was not aware of the financial services a bank could have offered. It was a surprising answer and a good reminder of how the world looks to a grassroots entrepreneur. Formal institutions such as banks and patent registers do not feel relevant to them.

Groundnut diggers ready to be shipped to clientswhere the will be assembled.

The most exciting moment of the field visit is always when the entrepreneur shows his factory. The factory of Sanjay was relatively small and he hopes to buy the factory neighboring his factory to facilitate future growth. Sanjay had though how to make the production faster and made frames, which he had attached to the workshop floor. Utilizing these, the workers know the size of the machine and the manufacturing process is much faster. Sanjay also told that the raw materials come from the nearby ship breaking industry. He sends his drawings and the measurements and they deliver the parts. The availability of raw materials providers played a role also when selecting the location for his factory.

Mitticool: The story of making pottery a succesful business


For the first field visited we went to the town of Wakaner, where we met with Mansukhbhai Prajapati and heard the story of Mitticool. When we arrived at the Mitticool premises, we first met the son of Mansukhbhai, Raja, who has been working for Mitticool for two years now. He showed us the showroom of the 130 Mitticool products. While Raja was explaining us something, Mansukhbhai himself entered the showroom and he showed us his innovations. The first innovation was an automated manufacturing process of tava plates, which was followed by the development of a water filter. In 2001, Gujarat was hit by a big earthquake, which affected Mansukh Bhai’s business because everything got broken and he made a huge financial loss in this period. However, a local newspaper published a story with a picture of the water filter developed by Mansukhbhai but the caption wrongly stated: “the poor man’s fridge got broken.” From that, he got the idea to develop the famous Mitticool fridge. His fourth innovation is a low pressure cooker, for which he got the idea from a student of IIMA.

After this introduction, we explained the purpose of the visit and the research and started with the interview. Mansukhbhai started telling about the harshness during his childhood, his family, moving from Morbi to Wakaner to find work, not finishing education, starting a shop with a friend, his work experience since childhood and finally about starting with the clay business.

Mansukhbhai Prajapati explaining the production
process in his factory.

Mansukhbhai worked in a factory but he had a strong desire to work for himself. One day in 1988 he met a moneylender, who was willing to give him a loan of Rs. 30.000 (350 EUR) with interest. With this initial investment, Mansukhbhai started the tava manufacturing company in his hometown Wakaner. His parents were also working in the pottery industry so he saw from close the suffering of people in the industry. Initially his parents were not very happy with his career choice, but he was convinced of his idea and the calculations he had made for the moneylender.

After the many clay innovations he developed, Mansukhbhai received an award for grassroots innovators from the president of India in 2009 and after that the success expanded. He got venture capital through an Indian governmental agency and knowledge support from a local grassroots incubation organization. This helped him a lot in developing and scaling the business. He also got international recognition and media outlets such as TIMES, Forbes and Discovery have shared his story – and Mansukhbhai is very proud of this.

Today, Mitticool is an enterprise that employs 80 people from the locality in manufacturing, has five people working on marketing and sales and is shipping products abroad, mostly to the Gulf States. The two sons of Mansukhbhai are also working for the enterprise – Raja for sales and Ravi for manufacturing. The path has not been easy until now, and both father and son know they need a lot of help also in the future –I assured them that I am willing to provide them help in any way possible I can.

Marleen Wierenga

Research assistant’s imaginary field trips


My imaginary research field trips

When I became a Research assistant, I took the new responsibility a bit too lightly, especially since about two thirds of my responsibilities are in and about East Africa. I told myself “I am from East Africa, this shouldn’t be too challenging”.

Imagine your mind jumping from Zanzibar to Iringa and then to Dar es Salaam, and all this time, being blanketed under a lot of unrelated data from 3 different fields i.e. Housing, Forestry and Water. The outcome of this journey was a good understanding of the data collection process and everything around it. Yes, you can still understand and analyze data even if I you are not in the field during data collection.

Post field trip data review/analysis is what I have been doing. I did this through working with different materials from the field trips. I have had to interpret photos, combine with other data to find meaning behind specific information, reading between the lines from the cultural point of view etc.

Working with data has been by far the most rewarding and motivational work in this research world. I have had to swim through it, dive deep down to pick out and understand the tiniest issues. Through the process, I learnt new things and I developed some skills within me.  I have had to do a lot of thinking and at times my brain was tested a whole lot. I thought being a native Swahili speaker is enough, but to my surprise, it is not.

What can I say? It takes more than the language. It feels good to be able to find data out of data. I came to realize that I could still squeeze out a lot of important information out of data that has been collected directly by someone else. I found myself drawn into data and understanding it in a very special way. Trying to make sense of some issues by using audios, photos and maps, is not an easy task. It takes a lot of time, but in the end, it is all worth it.

Emma Nkonoki 

 

What is grassroots entrepreneurship and why I want to study it?


When I started with my PhD, I knew that at some point I would have to do a field visit. Had I studied European social entrepreneurs, which is also a very interesting phenomenon, a field visit would have been closer to home and easier to organize. But I didn’t choose my research topic based on easiness but based on my passion – and that brought me kilometers away from home to India.

Entrepreneurs need in general financial capital (a loan from the bank or from previous entrepreneurial activities), human capital (education, skills, experiences) and social capital (the network around the entrepreneur) to develop innovations. In my research I focus on grassroots entrepreneurs, who basically have none or very little of these essential resources. Nevertheless, they managed to develop products that are bought by people living outside the village of the entrepreneurs. I want to understand the innovation process – how the entrepreneurs went from having an idea to developing a product and selling it accross India.

While it is a difficult process for any entrepreneur to convince retailers to take a product on the selves, it is even more complicated to do so for a grassroots entrepreneur. These entrepreneurs do not have the business processes (procuring, production, marketing, accounting and so on) as organized as for example entrepreneurs who have been trained at business schools. Grassroots entrepreneurship in India is also particularly interesting because it is a very hierarchical society. This is an additional complexity for grassroots entrepreneurs, who are based in a rural setting far away from the formal structures.

The cases I am looking at, are very famous cases and various local and international newspapers have covered the stories about these grassroots entrepreneurs. I have read every newspaper article written and watched every video clip about those grassroots entrepreneurs I want to cover in my study. So, I have a good understanding of what happened in the innovation process. However, I have not heard the story told by the actors themselves – the grassroots entrepreneurs – and that is the reason I came to India. I want to meet the persons behind the famous innovations and let them tell their stories.

And why I am interested in this particular topic? These are very inspiring individuals and there are many lessons these grassroots entrepreneurs can teach anyone. My curious mind cannot stop seeking for answers to all my questions – the how’s and why’s of the process. I also think that these entrepreneurs have not gotten the attention they deserve from researchers, policy makers or the general public. I want to do my share and have the grassroots entrepreneurs at the core of my research.

 

Marleen Wierenga

How do we improve the situations for mothers delivering in environments where the hospital capacity is far under estimated? 


In the main hospital in Balasore, Odisha, India the facility conducts 30 births/day out of which approximately half are cesarean deliveries. After a normal birth the mother stays only 48 hours in the hospital, but after a cesarean section she is supposed to stay for a week. There are beds for only 70 women. The facility has 3 nurses / shift and one cleaner. There are major challenges with hygiene and infection control. 
 
We are trying to find design and architectural solutions that can be produced in a frugal way, but that could benefit also other facilities with similar challenges both in India and elsewhere. New Global researcher Helena Sandman is involved in this project through M4ID.
Pictures Helena Sandman.