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Published on June 10th, 2017 | by Carolyn Fortuna

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Clean Energy Training & Solar Comes To Nepal UNESCO Heritage Site

June 10th, 2017 by  

Clean energy training is coming to a remote area of Nepal. The partner organizations Empowered by Light and Empower Generation will offer opportunities to women in the area surrounding a UNESCO World Heritage site to become clean-energy entrepreneurs while also improving the daily lives of the park’s rangers.

In this CleanTechnica exclusive, we talk with Anya Cherneff, the co-founder and executive director of Empower Generation, to learn more about how clean energy training will draw upon local knowledge to bring women into the Nepalese workforce.

clean energy training

Photo courtesy Bufferzone films

After fighting human trafficking and modern slavery for over five years, Anya Cherneff decided to try a market-based approach to gender and development. When she was in Nepal, she met others who agreed that a tremendous opportunity exists to create gender and energy paradigm shifts by empowering women to become clean energy entrepreneurs. Empower Generation is the product of that vision, and now some Nepali women, who have a particularly difficult time securing formal employment, will receive clean energy training as a way to start their own businesses.

“Empower Generation addresses the multiple identities of women in Nepal as caregivers and unpaid agricultural and home-based workers through our business model and the products we sell,” Cherneff told CleanTechnica. “The products we offer are also aimed at supporting women in their multiple roles.” Enter Chitwan National Park.

The Rich Biodiversity of Remote Chitwan National Park in Nepal

The UNESCO World Heritage Site, Chitwan National Park (CNP), is a rich natural area in the Terai, the subtropical southern part of Nepal. A total of 68 species of mammals, 544 species of birds, 56 species of herpetofauna, and 126 species of fish have been recorded in the CNP. The park harbors not only the world’s largest terrestrial mammal — the wild elephant — but also the world’s smallest terrestrial mammal — the pygmy shrew. A total of 544 species of birds has been recorded so far, including 22 globally threatened species:  Bengal Florican, Slender-billed Vulture, White-rumped Vulture, and Red-headed Vulture. The park is especially renowned for its protection of One Horned Rhinoceros, Royal Bengal Tiger, and Gharial Crocodile.

People living in the park, such as rangers, and in the bufferzone, such as local community members, experience unique challenges. Yes, these exciting and rare wild animals are a tourist attraction, but they are also a possible threat to people. The CNP personnel and the local people jointly initiate community development activities and manage natural resources in the buffer zone. It does helps a bit that the government of Nepal has made a provision of returning 30-50 percent of the park revenue for community development in the buffer zone.

How Electricity Makes a Difference at Chitwan National Park

Park rangers at Chitwan have lived without electrification since, in recognition of its unique biological resources of outstanding universal value, UNESCO designated CNP as a World Heritage Site in 1984. Working to prevent poaching, the rangers need solar power to stay in touch with park authorities and to power spotlights that help protect them at night, when they are surrounded by the animals of the habitat.

This fall, rangers protecting rhinos, tigers, and other endangered wildlife in Nepal’s famous Chitwan National Park will get a solar system that will light and power their isolated ranger outpost deep in the jungle. Without solar power, the rangers’ safety is in jeopardy in the darkness.

clean energy training

Photo courtesy Bufferzone films

The Rural Community in the Bufferzone Surrounding Chitwan National Park

In 1996, an area of 750 km2 surrounding CNP was declared a buffer zone, which consists of forests, private lands under cultivation, and the Beeshazari Lakes. To help rural communities thrive without draining the park’s natural resources, this fall’s effort by Empowered by Light and Empowered Generation will train 10 local women, whose economic opportunities have traditionally been limited, to sell a range of clean energy technologies such as solar home systems and improved cook stoves.

The Empowered by Light and Empower Generation project has two major elements:

  • installing a solar energy system on a remote ranger station that helps protect endangered tigers and rhinos in the Chitwan National Park, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, from poaching; and,
  • training women living near the park to become entrepreneurs by selling clean energy technologies.

How Clean Energy Training will Change Women’s Access to the Workforce in Nepal

According to CARE, a large number of economically active women in Nepal have no access to economic resources, with only 15% of women in the workforce.  “Women’s participation in and access to the country’s progress are constrained by a lack of formal employment or alternative livelihood opportunities,” the major international humanitarian agency says.

In order to more fully understand the role of Empower Generation as it helps to provide clean energy training to women in Nepal, we asked Anya Cherneff the following question:

Women are historically Othered in many societies around the world. Nepal is no exception. The systematic disadvantages to women by the dominant male society create a subordinate identity and role in Nepalese society for its women. How is your organization addressing the multiple identities of women — caregivers, unpaid agricultural and home-based workers — as it seeks to empower them?

Cherneff provided us with the following response.

Our women CEOs have shops in their home or nearby, so that they can continue to care for their children and family members. Our business model allows for women as caregivers and unpaid laborers to continue with these activities.Our women CEOs employ sales agents to help cover a greater area. Many sales agents also have family obligations and home responsibilities. They, too, work in their village or have a small shop that allows them to continue to care for their family.

Women in Nepal are household energy managers. They gather and use fuels such as kerosene and firewood. This results in women suffering the most from energy poverty. Our clean cookstoves reduce the fumes women breathe in while they are cooking and our portable solar lights reduce the number of kitchen accidents. Women also use the solar lights to feel safer when they are tending the fields at night, and provide a toxic-free environment for their children to study, which encourages more studying time.

The women in Empower Generation’s distribution network are changing the perceptions of how Nepalese women are viewed in society. Some of the women CEOs and sales agents face enormous opposition from their families when they join Empower Generation’s distribution network. In all cases, however, the family’s perception changes when they bring home additional income. Bringing in more income leads to more respect and more autonomy in familial decision-making.

Most of our women CEOs are not just business leaders but also do social work in their communities, becoming recognized leaders in their localities. For example, several women were nominated by political parties to run in the local Nepalese elections in May and June.

Empower Generation is a grassroots social enterprise that empowers local women to run clean energy businesses distributing solar in their local communities. Each entrepreneur owns her own business, recruits and manages her own sales staff, and selects and manages her own product mix. Empower Generation helps each new entrepreneur conduct an energy assessment in the target households in her market to best understand her community’s energy needs, and then provides guidance and access to high-quality solar power products that fit those needs.

Our last-mile solar distribution network is made up of 20 women-owned businesses. The needs of these entrepreneurs to make their businesses successful inform and shape the products we carry, the training we provide and the services we offer.

Tapping Local Knowledge while Improving Access to Clean Solar Energy

Traditional local knowledge has been a main asset in maintaining the livelihood of rural communities throughout history, and its importance has been highlighted by the FAO and the World Bank. Even so, local knowledge has not gained enough attention in high-level development programs, which is unfortunate given the potential it has. Communities are greatly influenced by politics and the emergence of new policies over the past few decades. These changes have gone hand in hand with environmental challenges, such as climate change and land degradation.

We asked Cherneff the following question to more clearly understand how local people and their culture were being addressed in their solar project:

Traditional local knowledge has been a main asset in maintaining the livelihood of rural communities throughout history. Many high-level development programs have not tapped this potential. How does Empowered by Light solicit input from local community members, especially women, about the best ways for their members to use and sell solar tools and technologies?

Cherneff described the role of local knowledge in Empower Generation’s work in Nepal.

Empower Generation is a grassroots social enterprise that empowers local women to run clean energy businesses distributing solar in their local communities. Each entrepreneur owns her own business, recruits and manages her own sales staff, and selects and manages her own product mix.

Empower Generation helps each new entrepreneur conduct an energy assessment in the target households in her market to best understand her community’s energy needs, and then provides guidance and access to high-quality solar power products that fit those needs. Our last-mile solar distribution network is made up of 20 women-owned businesses. The needs of these entrepreneurs to make their businesses successful inform and shape the products we carry, the training we provide and the services we offer.

Clean Energy Training in Conjunction with Protecting Endangered Wildlife

Clean energy products can help families to avoid using the natural resources from the park. Rangers protecting endangered wildlife in CNP will soon receive a solar system that will light and power their isolated ranger outpost deep in the jungle.

This is all part of continued collaboration in Nepal by Empowered by Light, which helps remote communities throughout the world develop renewable energy projects, and Empower Generation, which empowers women to become clean-energy entrepreneurs.

Watch this video to learn more about how clean energy is already furthering anti-poaching efforts and growing economic opportunities in this part of Nepal.

The project is part of a larger initiative to expand access to clean energy in remote communities around the world.

Conclusion

Many believe that nations can leapfrog decades of fossil fuel infrastructure development by powering their countries with renewable energy today. Empowered by Light and Empowered Generation are demonstrating the importance, feasibility, and sustainability of electrifying very remote and critical areas around the world with 100 percent clean renewable energy through their projects around the world in rural communities.





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About the Author

Carolyn Fortuna, Ph.D. is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. She's won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. She’s molds scholarship into digital media literacy and learning to spread the word about sustainability issues. Please follow me on Twitter and Facebook and Google+



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