<i>Pushing back the darkness</i>
The matter of energy for the world cannot be brushed aside. And that is a point no one questions. But beyond that is the issue of what actually is being done for those who actually require that energy. Enter Nancy Wimmer with her Green Energy for a Billion Poor. Unlike so many others all too ready to go into theoretical details about a public issue, Wimmer leads the reader straight into a study of how Grameen Shakti, here in Bangladesh, has made a difference in the lives of the not-so-privileged. She would like us to know that Grameen Shakti has created a set of conditions where social business does indeed have winning models to fall back on. And behind the triumph, in this particular instance, has been the Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus, whose foreword in the work is but a detailed account of what green energy is all about. If you have heard the story of Yunus' struggle for and success with micro-credit, with Grameen Bank, you will want to listen to this new story here.
The point about Grameen Shakti is its endeavours toward providing easily available solar energy to the rural poor in Bangladesh. Of course, there is the small matter of the costs involved, seeing that the exercise is rather new for a country yet struggling to break free of poverty. It is just such a struggle which becomes the focus of Grameen Shakti's green energy programme. The undertaking commenced in 1995, when the Grameen Bank took note of the lack of grid access and therefore an absence of electricity for its two million borrowers. The premise was simple: if in twenty years the poor could be drawn into a new vista through micro-credit, one of self-dependence and perhaps even prosperity, the idea of solar energy lighting up homes in the villages of Bangladesh could not be dismissed as an improbable thought. And so began a new venture.
Nancy Wimmer takes you by the hand, as it were, through the many tortuous paths followed by those who dared to dream of light at the end of the tunnel. It sent its young engineers to the remote corners of the country, to persuade local politicians and influential individuals and groups into embracing the reality of light actually harnessed from the plenitude of sun in Bangladesh. It was at Kalihati in Tangail that the first move, which essentially was a 17W solar panel linked to two lamps, was taken. Grameen Shakti has not looked back since.
The work is a quiet story of simple success achieved in unostentatious manner. By 2010, Grameen Shakti had tripled the number of its offices to over a thousand. The number of its field staff rose to nine thousand employees. As it was with Grameen Bank, the overarching goal here was the empowerment of the masses, to however limited a degree. Men and women, skilled in technology and indeed in public relations, were drawn into the scene. In the end, it was the twilight which put paid to the darkness. The moral? The frontiers of knowledge can indeed be pushed back. That is Wimmer's theme in this enlightening work.