Kopernik Is Changing Lives In West Timor With Low-Cost Cleantech Solutions

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The woman walks up to the door of the office with confidence and orders two new water filters and a single solar-powered lamp. The products were destined for a neighbor’s household after she saw the benefits they provided. The water in the Kupang neighborhood she lives in is chronically contaminated with silt and other particulates that the low-cost and easy-to-implement Nazava water filters remove time and time again.

These water filters and other low-cost cleantech solutions are being deployed by the nonprofit Kopernik, which runs its Wonder Women program out of its Kupang office in Eastern Indonesia. Kopernik was recognized with a Zayed Future Energy Prize award for its work to empower local female leaders with the resources needed to start their own cleantech businesses.

The beauty of the program is this: Kopernik trains local women on a variety of clean tech solutions that have been identified as the most impactful while still being affordable. Products offered include solar lanterns that charge during the day and provide light and mobile phone charging at night and a biomass stove that requires half as much wood as cooking on the traditional ‘3-stone’ cook fires that are so common across Indonesia.

This work ties directly to Kopernik’s core mission of developing and delivering solutions for those in the “last mile” — or areas without access to infrastructure like electricity, clean water, and waste management. The Wonder Women program isn’t just chatter in an office thousands of miles away or the offering of overpriced western solutions to those with no hopes of being able to ever afford them — quite the contrary, in fact. The solutions being offered by Kopernik offer real value to the customers buying them as well as an opportunity for incremental income for the local entrepreneurs selling them.

The Wonder Women Program

Wonder Woman Mama Naomi in Kupang, Indonesia, started by selling water filters and solar products from her humble warung (store) to her local community. After selling several hundred water filters and seeing the impact they were making with her family and friends, she looked for opportunities to help even more people.

She found a partner with her local church which she joined forces with in order to take the solutions beyond her community to those who really need the clean technology solutions some 80 kilometers up into the remote mountains above her home in Kupang. There, she has given workshops on the solutions to the local villagers, not to make more money, but rather, to share the positive impact the solutions have had on her life and the lives of her family, friends and community.

The water purification system was clearly her favorite solution of the bunch as it removed the sediment and other harmful contaminants from rain or river water and transformed it into safe, drinkable water for her family.

After receiving an order for a new water purification system from yet another neighbor, Mama Naomi visited the Kopernik office in Kupang to purchase the system.

Signing the requisite paperwork and making payment for the water filters and solar light, it was clear that she was familiar with the routine, having sold a staggering 438 of the water filtration systems in 2017 alone. After the administrative tasks were complete, she loaded the goods up on her motorcycle and drove the few short blocks home.

Mama Naomi is not alone, as non-profit Kopernik has Wonder Women spread across the eastern Indonesian island of Timor. These Wonder Women are more than just entrepreneurs, serving as ambassadors of high tech, low cost clean technology solutions that bring hope to their communities. Replacing a kerosene lamp that must constantly be fed kerosene quickly becomes a significant line item in the family budget that can force families to choose between staying up later to read and eating healthier food.

The multi-pronged program brings in local female leaders and teaches them about the products and the value each offers. The efficient biomass stove Kopernik offers allows families to cook the same amount of food with half the firewood. That simple transition from age old campfire cooking to a more efficient stove gives families back the gift of time, with time spent gathering firewood consuming a significant portion of the day for many last mile families.

Real Problems, Bold Actions

Kopernik brings solutions that not only improve the quality of life for families in meaningful ways, the solutions also inject communities with a not-so-subtle dose of sustainability. Families move from burning kerosene for light to clean, sustainable solar lights for their homes. Indoor pollution from lamps and cooking fires is replaced with power that comes from the sun, generating zero emissions in the home.

Water is clean once again as the Nazava water filters Kopernik is bringing into communities through its Wonder Women program give families access to low cost, clean water to drink. The tedious task of boiling water and filtering it through partially effective cloth filters goes away and is replaced with a simple, gravity powered process of filtration. These filters introduce clean water and take away hours of work for families.

The Last Mile

Kopernik’s approach also gives hard working mothers in Last Mile communities much needed opportunities to step up as community leaders who bring life-altering solutions and the knowledge about how to use them to those who need them most. This powerful model has opened the floodgates of clean technologies flowing into communities across Indonesia that will be difficult to stop.

Wonder Woman Mama Selvi shared how 90% of the families in her remote community of 1500 people is now using solar for lighting and USB phone charging. In communities such as these, Kopernik’s role of connecting Wonder Women with the clean technology solutions is even more instrumental as the simple ability to get physical access to clean tech solutions is the biggest hurdle to moving forward. Mama Selvi cut right to the chase, sharing that “I couldn’t do what I’m doing without Kopernik helping me.”

These life-changing innovations brought Kopernik to the forefront in the Zayed Future Energy Prize competition, where it was recognized with the non-profit award in 2016. The award affirmed Kopernik’s approach to solving chronic issues that have proven difficult with more traditional models of delivering aid or offering free solutions that require renewed sources of donations to keep the aid flowing.

Looking Forward

Kopernik may be connecting moms with the solutions their communities need, but make no mistake about it — it is the Wonder Women that are out there in the communities, sitting with neighbors to show them how and why the water filters, solar lights, and biomass stoves they have available are worthwhile that are the true heroes of the program.

Lives are changed through relationship and these powerful women that are building the bridges and creating the connections that are so vital to making these life-changing products successful that keep the program afloat. Each water filter sold is a life, a family changed just as each solar lamp sold represents hours and hours of clean air in the home for the families using them.

The deployment model Kopernik is using is the result of years of effort spent honing an approach that would deliver meaningful change, empowers those it seeks to help while maintaining economic sustainability that does not rely on constant contributions from donors. The team at Kopernik isn’t resting on its laurels either. Rather, it is pushing hard into the affordable clean tech space in search of the latest and greatest solutions that can help it accomplish its mission of “finding what works to reduce poverty in the Last Mile.”

The results tell the strongest story, and it is clear from the results of the hard work from Mama Naomi, Mama Selvi, and the dozens of other Wonder Women in eastern Indonesia that Kopernik is changing lives. Thousands of liters of clean water have been consumed thanks to the Nazava water filters Kopernik has made available. Hours and hours of solar powered LED light has helped students study at night without the need for dangerous kerosene lanterns, and these results only scratch the surface on the empowerment the program gives to women selling its suite of clean tech products.

To learn more about the Wonder Women program in eastern Indonesia, to get involved, or to donate, head over to Kopernik’s official website for the program. To learn more about Kopernik’s 2016 win of the Zayed Future Energy Prize for Non-Profit / Non-Governmental Organization, the Zayed Future Energy Prize site is a great place to start.

Images credit: Kyle Field for CleanTechnica and Masdar

*This article was written for Masdar as part of a Zayed Future Energy Prize – now known as the Zayed Sustainability Prize – effort to highlight the impact made by past winners of the prize. All travel was paid for by Masdar.

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Kyle Field

I'm a tech geek passionately in search of actionable ways to reduce the negative impact my life has on the planet, save money and reduce stress. Live intentionally, make conscious decisions, love more, act responsibly, play. The more you know, the less you need. As an activist investor, Kyle owns long term holdings in Tesla, Lightning eMotors, Arcimoto, and SolarEdge.

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