By Lisa Anderson
Access to safe, reliable and sustainable energy is one of the world’s most pressing problems. Currrently, 1.6 billion people live without access to power or electric light. Some 70 percent of them are women and children, who often are tasked with gathering the wood, charcoal and animal dung that provide the cooking fuel in many parts of the globe. Some women spend up to 18 hours a day gathering such resources—hours that could be spent in more profitable and rewarding ways, such as running small businesses or learning marketable skills.
As a sign of its importance, the subject was given an early slot at the eighth annual Clinton Global Initiative conference, which corrals about 1,000 of the world’s leaders--heads of state, chief executives of major corporations, directors of non-profit organizations, Nobel laureates, major philanthropists, scientists, journalists and innovators—together in a Manhattan hotel once a year to “forge solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges.”
At this year’s event, former President Bill Clinton, who founded CGI in 2005, underscored the vital role of women and girls in solving problems, including energy, in his opening remarks to the three-day conference, entitled “Designing for Impact”, which kicked off on Sunday afternoon at the Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers.
There is always a focus on women and girls at CGI gatherings, he said, but, for the first time, at this conference “the strategic role of women” will be addressed in all sessions dealing with all eight of the “tracks”, or topical global challenges, pursued by CGI.
Those tracks are:
--The Built Environment, which focuses on developing innovative methods for improving the environmental and social effectiveness of infrastructure, buildings, neighborhoods and cities.
--Education and Workforce Development, which works on methods to build more effective education systems to lift people from poverty and achieve lasting economic development.
--Energy and Ecosystems, which looks at ways to produce healthy, sustainable and renewable sources of energy, address climate change adaptation and promote sustainable agriculture.
--Girls and Women, which seeks paths to empower women in business and across all issue areas.
--Global Health, which works on preventing disease and increasing access to quality health care.
--Market-based Approaches, which taps into CGI members’ expertise to use the market as a tool for positive social impact from the national down to the individual level.
--Response and Resilience, which works to identify how NGOs, governments, corporations and civil society can collaborate to prepare for and reduce the impact of conflict and disaster wherever they pose a threat.
--Technology, which looks for ways to promote development by using technology to connect people and increase market opportunities and access to education.
CGI specializes in on-the-spot, hands-on brainstorming to come up with workable solutions—even when the time available is only 45 minutes, as it was at a workshop called, “How can we provide reliable and safe energy to those in need?”
There, some 100 participants were asked to come up with innovative ideas for new products or business models that could achieve that goal.
They were spurred on by remarks by Kandeh Yumkella, director-general of the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), who said “energy is central to global security going forward.”
He noted that on Monday, Sept. 25, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and World Bank president Jim Yong Kim will launch a new commission on energy development with the goals of achieving by 2030: universal access to safe and sustainable power, doubling the annual rate of energy efficiency and increasing the share of renewable energy sources by 30 percent.
“You have to engage women, not just as customers. They need to be producers, distributors and maintenance agents,” when it comes to energy, Jim Rogers, chairman, president and CEO of Duke Energy Corp., told the gathering.
He brandished a solar lamp, which he said he had charged by the window of his hotel room, as an example of the type of affordable and safe technology that could incorporate women in the sales, supply and maintenance chain.
The problem of safe energy is particularly important as currently two out of five people in the world without power cook with fuels that contribute to deforestation or produce noxious gases. It is estimated that nearly 2 million people annually die prematurely due to illnesses caused by indoor air pollution produced by those fuels.
After some 45 minutes, the participants, broken into teams, had come up with a number of ideas to promote safe and reliable energy. One group suggested creating micro-energy hubs run by local entrepreneurs at the village level and financed through micro-finance schemes. These solar-powered hubs would provide stored energy for charging cell phones and other devices, lighting and refrigeration.
Another group suggested creating local energy markets, like farmers’ markets, which would rotate through regions providing a place for locals to sell solar lamps, charge batteries and other services in exchange for cash, goods or bartered services.
Not a bad start, as moderator Krista Donaldson, chief executive of D-Rev: Design Revolution, had warned the participants: “We’re trying to solve one of the biggest problems in the world in an afternoon.”