A business partnership between law firm Hogan Lovells and Barefoot College seeks to help women in the developing world rise out of poverty by offering programs in solar panel engineering. Barefoot College, founded in 1972, is a college built by and for the rural poor, whose main objective is “to demystify and decentralise technology and put new tools in the hands of the rural poor with a singular objective of spreading self-sufficiency and sustainability.” This initiative, conducted in partnership with Hogan Lovells, focuses on teaching impoverished women solar panel engineering. The objective is for these women to bring the technology back to their villages and provide a renewable light source to destitute rural areas.
The project estimates it will bring clean, renewable power to over 200,000 people by training 400 women at five centres in Latin America, Africa and the Pacific Islands. Since 2008, when the initiative started, the college estimates it has trained 1084 women, or ‘solar mamas’ as they call them, from 83 different countries in solar panel installation and maintenance. Hogan Lovells is now providing Barefoot with pro bono legal advice and financial backing to help with the most recent expansion of the program.
Although a majority of the women are illiterate, through sign language and color-coded textbooks they are taught how to create, install and maintain solar panels for their community. Not only does this help bring a renewable power source to thousands of destitute villages, but by teaching impoverished women solar panel engineering, it helps to develop gender equality in these regions. The ‘solar mamas’ become respected community advisers and hold a high position as the installers and maintainers of a village’s main power source.
Installing solar panels also brings an array of other benefits to poor, rural, areas. It replaces the use of toxic kerosene, allowing children to study at night with the use of lamps, and family incomes tend to rise, since they pay less than what they paid for kerosene, batteries, candles, etc. Barefoot estimates that it has replaced over 500 million litres of the highly toxic and flammable kerosene since the program started.
Barefoot College and its ‘solar mama’ initiative in cooperation with Hogan Lovells is an example of the innovative progress made by non-governmental institutions in the race to meet the U.N’s Sustainable Development Goals. By training impoverished women in solar panel engineering, Barefoot, in a single program, addresses seven of the 17 goals, including tackling poverty, promoting gender equality and developing affordable and clean energy. It is an example to be followed.
– Alan Garcia-Ramos