The GCEEPA whole 940 million people, or 13% of the global population, do not have access to electricity. This is the central challenge that The Global Commission to End Energy Poverty (GCEEP) is facing.

The Global Commission to End Energy Poverty (GCEEP)

The GCEEP is a smorgasbord of innovators and leaders composed of utility companies, off-grid companies, multilateral development banks, academics and individuals across many different sectors. Drawing from key decision-makers such as former U.S. Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz, and Africa Development Bank president, Dr. Akinwumi Adisina, the GCEEP is in a unique and leveraged position to influence governments around the world to take a better-informed approach at tackling energy poverty.

The Global Impact of COVID-19

Operating under the leadership of the president of the Rockefeller Foundation, Dr. Rajiv J. Shah, the GCEEP issued a report in early December of 2020, stating that COVID-19 has resulted in a new wave of complications in the fight against energy poverty. COVID-19 could result in an additional 100 million people losing access to electricity because of exacerbated financial hardship.

Defining Energy Poverty

Energy poverty is defined as a lack of access to reliable and affordable energy sources. Energy is the foundation through which a place can build a healthy, financially stable community. As the COVID-19 pandemic has proven, energy is at the core of modern health care and treatment. Countries that lack access to electricity, or the financial capabilities to afford electricity, struggle to recover in several aspects. Access to energy is a key indicator and crucial aspect to eradicating global poverty.

The GCEEP’s 2020 report on electricity access calls for governments around the world to consider energy poverty a serious issue that demands an expeditious and large-scale response.

Boasting an MIT-led research team and a practical, on-the-ground approach, the GCEEP’s strategy directly engages government leaders, investors and stakeholders in the power sector.

This approach is the Integrated Distribution Framework (IDF). Focusing on what the report calls the “weak link” in power systems across the world, the IDF aims to address problems in distribution and large-scale electrification through business models that are feasible and actionable.

Key Principles of the IDF:

  • A commitment to universal access. This requires the permanence of supply and the existence of a utility-like entity with the responsibility for providing access in a defined territory.
  • Efficient and coordinated integration of on- and off-grid solutions like grid extensions and mini-grids.
  • A financially viable business model for distribution.
  • A focus on development to ensure that electrification produces broad socio-economic benefits such as better delivery of critical public services in health and education.

The GCEEP believes that ending energy poverty is an achievable goal. As the GCEEP co-founders sum it up, “Only by ending energy poverty can we end poverty itself.”

– Andrew Eckas
Photo: Flickr

solar-powered sewing machinesIn rural India, where many people lack sustainable energy sources, there has been a recent emphasis on clean energy. This means focusing on decentralized, renewable energy (DRE) over “brown” energy, provided through sources such as coal. Clean energy is especially important in India because it may not only produce more sustainable energy systems but also create more jobs and higher incomes. Solar-powered sewing machines are just one example of how sustainable energy can help lift people out of poverty.

Energy in India

India is the second-highest coal consumer in the world, consuming around 966,288,693 tons per year since 2016. This amount has decreased, however, due to COVID-19. In April 2020, Coal India Ltd.’s shipments decreased by 25.5% to 39.1 million tons. This drop in coal use greatly impacts rural areas, which lack reliable electricity.

More than four million rural micro-businesses struggle with this lack of sustainable energy sources. In rural areas, where 29% of people are below the poverty line, micro-enterprises make up a large portion of people’s incomes. These enterprises provide a service costing less than 10 lakh rupees. To combat their challenges with electricity, these businesses have begun to harness solar power on a smaller scale through sewing machines, printing machines and lighting. Many NGOs have also begun to help these businesses set up major infrastructure to do so.

A Solution in Solar-Powered Sewing Machines

Clean energy could not only produce sustainable energy, but it also has a higher potential for efficient outcomes, increasing average income and creating more jobs. The workforce could increase to at least 330,000 people using green energy, compared to the 300,000 employed with coal in India.

A concrete example of this phenomenon is solar-powered sewing machines. These machines, developed by Resham Sutra, use 90% less power than standard machines. In addition to creating more jobs, these sewing machines’ increased efficiency could also benefit rural areas by reducing the effects of pollution from coal. Rural women will especially benefit from solar-powered sewing machines. In the state of Maharashtra, around 21% of women with micro-enterprises are tailors.

Additionally, the Selco Foundation has looked to make small but sustainable improvements to pre-existing machines. By attaching a permanent magnet DC motor, the organization allows solar energy to power sewing machines. This mechanism increased efficiency by 25%. A study conducted by The Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) on the impacts of the Selco Foundation found that the annual income of tailors increased by 39% on average after adding solar power to sewing machines. Tailors’ income rose from a median value of INR 65,000 to INR 90,000.

Using Solar-Powered Sewing Machines to Combat COVID-19

As COVID-19 supplies have been scarce in many parts of India, some female tailors have stitched masks to disperse, supporting their businesses while fighting COVID-19. Smart Power India, powered by the Rockefeller Foundation, has shifted its mission to address COVID-19 in India. The NGO has placed 250 mini-grids across India to provide electricity to over 230,000 people. The foundation now supplies money to seamstresses to stitch face masks to various districts for protection from COVID-19. Each tailor uses solar-powered sewing machines powered by the mini-grids placed by the Rockefeller Foundation. Over a two-month period, the 25 women funded by Smart Power India have sewed over 125,000 masks, receiving $400 to $500 for their work.

For those in poverty, sustainable energy continues to be an obstacle to increasing wealth. Clean energy can both reduce efficiency and pollution as well as help people find a consistent source of income. Rural tailors in India, encouraged by solar-powered sewing machines, can thus climb out of poverty while helping their communities.

Nitya Marimuthu
Photo: Flickr

Global Food Waste

Today, 789 million people — one in nine — are food insecure or undernourished. However, one-third of the food produced annually — 1.3 billion metric tons — is wasted. This adds up to $990 billion in yearly economic loss worldwide due to food waste. Two initiatives, YieldWise and SAVE FOOD, are aiming to reduce global food waste, particularly in developing nations.

In 2016, The Rockefeller Foundation launched YieldWise, a $130 million project, with a focus on halving global food waste by 2030. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. (FAO) partnered with Messe Düsseldorf to launch the SAVE FOOD program. Here is a closer look at both of these initiatives.


YieldWise will initially focus on fixing the broken food chain in Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania, where approximately half of all crops grown are wasted. Collectively, 70% of citizens in these three countries work in the agricultural sector.

The initiative focuses on four pillars. First, YieldWise links smallholder farmers to markets by facilitating agreements between producers and buyers like Coca-Cola and Cargill. Next, farmers are connected with technology that combats food spoilage, like metal silos provided by the government of Tanzania. YieldWise invests in technology and financial models that extend the shelf-life of food and helps manufacturers promote solar-drying and cold storage units. Finally, the program increases accountability for global businesses by creating tracking tools, so corporations can measure the waste within their supply chains.

The Rockefeller Foundation intends to increase YieldWise’s sphere of influence to include developed countries such as the U.S. and Europe, where food waste occurs on the consumer level. Buyers in developed countries waste approximately 222 million tons of food per year. The entire net food production of Sub-Saharan Africa is only 230 million tons per year. Thus, the developed world wastes almost as much food as is produced in the Sub-Saharan region.

So far, YieldWise has impacted nearly 40,000 smallholder farmers in Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania and 16,400 metric tons of produce have been sold by smallholder farmers that have been connected to markets through this program.


Similarly, the FAO and Messe Düsseldorf have created an initiative focused on spreading awareness about food waste. SAVE FOOD engages over 900 partners worldwide in developing programs to promote waste reduction.

SAVE FOOD has implemented four major actions to combat global food waste. First, the initiative has formed a worldwide media campaign to raise awareness of the aggregate impact of waste and to circulate solutions. Second, the project has mobilized public and private partnerships to collaborate and develop widespread initiatives. Third, the program leverages field studies and cost-benefit analyses to determine which interventions provide the greatest returns on investment and how best to fix political and regulatory policy. Finally, SAVE FOOD provides anti-waste capacity-building support and training to actors in the food chain.

One of SAVE FOOD’s projects aims to reduce post-harvest waste and improve the quality of crops in Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri-Lanka. Poor packaging and storage, little post-harvest infrastructure and improper handling results in crop losses between 20 and 44% in these three countries. Specialists trained in post-harvest practices will extend teachings to actors in the food chain, such as small farmers and farm groups. The overall aim of the project is to reduce post-harvest losses by improving the quality and extending the shelf-life of fresh produce.

Looking Toward the Future

By 2050, the world’s population is expected to grow to 9.7 billion people. Feeding this number will require a 70% increase in food production. To accommodate a growing population, the current global agricultural system must be adjusted to maximize efficiency and prioritize the growth of sustainable practices.

More than half of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals touch upon food availability and nutrition. Minimizing global food waste, particularly in areas with vulnerable populations, works toward achieving these goals. Innovative initiatives such as YieldWise and SAVE FOOD have the potential to improve food security worldwide by redirecting wasted food to undernourished populations and profits to smallholder farmers.

Katherine Parks

Photo: Flickr

Food Loss by 2030Local and global stakeholders in the Nigerian tomato value chain met late last year for the first YieldWise partner planning session. This was part of a crucial Rockefeller Foundation initiative to help halve food loss worldwide by 2030, a key objective of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.

The product loss in Nigeria is staggering. While the country is the largest producer of tomatoes in Sub-Saharan Africa and the second largest in all of Africa, more than 40 percent of the product is lost between harvest and market each year. The post-harvest loss harms both consumers and smallholder farmers. On a worldwide basis, one-third of the food produced is lost to spoilage or is just thrown away. That’s food that could nourish the nearly 800 million people who go to bed hungry. For smallholder farmers, the post-harvest loss means loss of income and profits, leading to their own economic insecurity.

To demonstrate how post-harvest loss can be prevented, the Rockefeller Foundation launched the $130 million YieldWise initiative last year. The Foundation chose as its demonstration sites Nigeria, Kenya and Tanzania. Nearly half the fruits, vegetables and staple crops produced in these countries are lost before they can ever reach a table. In Nigeria, the focus of the Rockefeller Foundation initiative to help halve food loss is on reducing crop losses and, perhaps just as important, on building an efficient value chain from a producer, to a buyer, a processor, a retailer and ultimately to the consumer.

Creating a more efficient, integrated tomato value chain was a key purpose of the meeting late last year of 22 local and global stakeholders. The stakeholders included Nigerian and international NGOs, Nigerian government representatives, providers, processors, agro-technology manufacturers and large scale tomato buyers. By aligning the resources each brings to the table, the stakeholders could develop a single, unified strategy to overcome post-harvest loss in the tomato value chain. The strategy addresses farmer aggregation and training, market linkages, financing and loss mitigating technologies.

The strategy was made possible because the individual stakeholders set aside their usual competitive differences to engage in a collaboration that would benefit the entire value chain, as well as each individual part of the value chain. The stakeholders will continue their collaboration at quarterly working group meetings. This spirit of collaboration is characteristic of the other demonstration projects participating in the Rockefeller Foundation initiative to help halve food loss by 2030. Through collaboration that engages stakeholders from smallholder farmers to international giants like Coca-Cola, the Foundation hopes to show that the problem of post-harvest loss can be solved for good.

Robert Cornet

Photo: Flickr

A first of its kind, Catalysts for Change, an innovative and interactive online game, was run by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Institute for the Future last year in the beginning of April. The game prompted participants worldwide to discuss and come up with ways to battle the plentiful issues of poverty. The game itself was designed around four catalysts: new evidence, new capacities, new rules and new stories, all of which contributed to the card-based gaming platform.

Players could share ideas through Positive/Critical imagination cards – these had the potential to be built on by others through Momentum, Antagonism, Investigation and Adaptation cards. Leaderboards were also created, displaying points players had earned through using and gaining said cards. These could furthermore be categorized as Scenario Fail, Common Knowledge or Super Interesting based on the players’ personal perception of presented ideas. Achievements spanning across seven levels, going from Inspired to Legend, were available for unlocking before being recorded in player profiles.  Each card played was then cataloged by category, available for public viewing on a special dashboard.

A game blog recorded all progress and presented new missions and challenges in real time. Two weeks before the actual game start, several preparations were made including social media advertising and buzz-building, recruitment, email exchange between coordinators across the world and various sponsor partnerships which led to further awareness among people. Most follow-up cards played were either Investigation or Momentum; of the top-tier, Critical versus Positive imagination were played, the latter being more than twice as frequent. Around 53% of all cards had follow-up cards attached, spanning overall very optimistic and fruitful discussions. As expected from discussions concerning poverty, themes such as education, work and community were amongst the most common. A few top innovative ideas that were brought up include:

–  Alternative economic systems or a universal currency
–  Empathy, i.e. teaching children from an early age to perceive worldly problems
–  Entrepreneurial education and new business funding as a common endorsement for all
–  Socially engineered ways around corruption
–  Sharing to eliminate waste

Although the aim of the game was not to implement any policy for actual poverty reduction, it managed to fulfill its purpose: to motivate and bring together people in their desire to make a change. Several of the players, engaged among one another, even discussed ways they could contribute beyond playing the game, such as starting a non-profit together centered chiefly around their ideas. The attention on social media (Facebook and Twitter) that Catalysts for Change received helped further spread the cause. Thoughts shared by players are still accessible on the website today, providing ‘food for thought’ for anyone hungry for making a difference. Although the game spanned for only 48 hours, it attracted 1,616 players from 79 different countries who used a total of 18,207 cards.

– Natalia Isaeva

Sources: The Rockefeller Foundation: Catalysts for Change, Institute for the Future
Photo: Vimeo

As the G8 summit takes place, poverty reduction is going to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue.  With the final countdown of the Millennium Development Goals looming, everyone is working hard to raise awareness, spread ideas, and figure out new ways to reduce the number of impoverished people in the world.

History is full of individuals like John D. Rockefeller, who eventually turned to philanthropy as a way to fight against the root cause of poverty, and many today are equally aware of the need to fight the core cause of poverty rather than simply fighting the symptoms or outcomes. What they are finding is that good works alone will not eradicate poverty, and organizations like the Rockefeller Foundation are calling for a change. That change is a focus on investment. The goal is to combine philanthropy with profit and urge investors to think in terms of doing well by doing good.

The foundation has called their idea Impact Investing and has doubled its outlay to $2.2 billion in 2011. The concept will be a central idea at the G8 summit.  For a long time, investment was thought to simply be concerned with making a good financial return. Social and environmental goals were accomplished through donations to charities, and perhaps soft loans.  Financial gain did not belong in the world of charitable giving.  But financial growth from investments often bypasses the poor, as is the case in much of the booming India. Financial success has not translated into reducing numbers of malnourished children.

Impact Investing seeks to shift the thinking so that the poor are viewed as potential customers, not victims.  Maintaining ethics and avoiding abuse are key, but the Grameen Bank has helped millions get out of poverty using just such an approach. The bank is able to sustain its achievements by the return on investments it receives.  Growing number of investors are getting involved in Impact Investing, and both JP Morgan and Credit Suisse have estimated investments could reach $1 trillion by the end of decade.

The practice is in its early stages, but investments could just become the most effective poverty reduction method.

– Amanda Kloeppel
Source: The Telegraph