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Honnald Foundation

In today’s fast-paced and technological world, it is easy to take everyday things for granted. Millions of people have lights, electric stoves and numerous electronic devices at their fingertips. However, there are an estimated 1.1 billion people across the globe who do not have access to basic electricity. These areas often lack development from big companies that would create job opportunities. Thus, it is no surprise that many areas that suffer from “energy poverty” are among the same areas that hold the highest rates of international poverty. Rock climber Alex Honnold identified the intersection between electricity and poverty and decided to take action. In 2012, Honnold created his own nonprofit organization called the Honnold Foundation.

Alex Honnold

Alex Honnold is known for his role in the documentary “Free Solo.” The adventure climber rocketed to fame when he became the first climber to ascend Yosemite’s 3,000 foot El Capitan wall without the assistance of any ropes, harnesses or other protective equipment. He has gained a large international following from his successful climbs of the biggest cliffs in the world. But, Honnold is equally well known for the strong work ethic and humble attitude he carries with him.

As Honnold began to gain attention for his impressive climbing skills, he had many opportunities to join climbing trips to various remote places around the world that were sponsored by different brands. In preparation for his travels, Honnold would often read books about each of his destinations to learn more about the area. He soon began to develop an understanding of climate change issues, social justice efforts and environmental problems. Honnold also witnessed them first-hand in many of his expeditions. On an eye-opening trip to Chad in 2010, Honnold recalled driving through entire villages without access to power.

Developing the Honnold Foundation

Honnold continued to educate himself on these issues. In 2012, Honnold and his longtime climbing partner Maury Birdwell dreamed up the Honnold Foundation. Its vision is to fight poverty, improve lives and reduce environmental impact via solar projects around the world. Poverty and global warming were the two most concerning issues that came up repeatedly in Honnold’s research and experiences. Honnold and Birdwell found that both issues could be resolved by the promotion of solar energy.

They developed the idea on the way home from a climbing trip. With Yosemite as their office, the founders of the Honnold Foundation tweaked and honed their ideas into a cohesive and forward-thinking organization. Honnold believes that access to electricity is essential to improving people’s lives. Since its inception, Honnold has consistently given a third of his income to the Honnold Foundation each year.

Honnold Foundation’s Focus

The Honnold Foundation is a nonprofit public charity that provides funding for solar power initiatives that tackle global energy inequality through environmentally sound means. In recent years, the organization has honed in on four main nonprofit organizations: SolarAid, GRID Alternatives, The Solar Energy Foundation and Northern Navajo Solar Entrepreneurs. Each organization focuses on a unique element of solar expansion and share the unifying mission of transitioning people to solar energy.

There have been several projects to date. One project furthers the efforts of SolarAid to replace polluting and dangerous kerosene lamps in Malawi and Zambia with solar ones. Another is advancing pay-as-you-go financing for solar energy systems in Ethiopia through the Solar Energy Foundation. It installs affordable solar power through GRID Alternatives to off-grid low-income communities. Furthermore, it promotes solar education in community hubs and supports long-term entrepreneurship programs to increase solar energy in Navajo communities.

Solar power is cheap, reliable, safe and variable in its applications. When asked about the great work he is doing with solar energy through his foundation, Honnold often brings the attention back to what this energy is doing for the people in these communities. Many organizations exist to support the basic necessities of food, shelter and water, which are all essential components. Without electricity, there can be no sewing machines or rice mills. Job opportunities are scarce.

Solar electricity gives people access to education, better living conditions and economic advantages. Solar power helps reduce environmental impact worldwide, but especially in regions that have never had electricity in any form. It can’t be expected for those living in poverty to care about sustaining the environment when their own basic needs aren’t being met. The Honnold Foundation aims to shed light on both the planet and poverty.

GiGi Hogan
Photo: Flickr

SolarAidHaving access to working electricity and lights is something most first-world countries tend to overlook and forget to point out how fortunate it is to have such a thing. Unfortunately, there are countries who do not have that privilege and have to cut the day short, which interferes with work and children’s studies. SolarAid is a charity founded in 2006, to combat poverty and provide electricity to developing countries such as Uganda, Malawi and Zambia. They are responsible for many innovations including solar lamps, study lights and solar light libraries. SolarAid charity works alongside numerous partners and even created their own social enterprise, SunnyMoney in 2008, located in Africa so that rural communities have a local main seller and can receive information on how to use solar lights. This charity has done many projects that have transformed and impacted the communities within Africa.

Uganda

In 2014, SolarAid started doing projects in Uganda. Households in small, remote villages in Uganda rely on expensive kerosene for lighting where residents have to travel back and forth to trading centers to buy the kerosene which can get expensive over time. Many schools were also affected by the lack of light until SolarAid created the “world’s most affordable light”. The SM100, also known as a study light, is the world’s most affordable light selling in rural communities for as little as $5, tax-free. This light can be charged in low sunlight and provides light for about five hours. It has a stand attached so that it could easily be set up on the ground and it can also be hung on the wall. Because of its rectangle shape, the SM100 can be taken off its stand and can be attached to straps so that residents can carry it around or use it as a head torch.

A 70-year-old widow, who raises her four grandchildren, lost their hut due to her grandchild knocking over a kerosene lamp sparking a fire. With the SM100, this light is safe for her young grandchildren to use. Students at the Star Light primary school have successfully increased their grades due to having an adequate light source.“My teachers used not to plan their lessons at night and candidate class was limited to the use of three kerosene lamps but ever since I purchased 40 SM100 for my pupils and teachers, everything changed”, said Okello George, the director of the school board. This light has provided many solutions for the community in Uganda that are safe and efficient with doing everyday tasks.

Malawi

On April 1, 2019, SolarAid launched Project Switch in the Mandevu village in the Kasungu district of Malawi providing the village with solar light for the first time. This village has zero access to electricity cutting days short once the sunsets. During the execution of Project Switch, SolarAid provided this village with a solar charging station which is essentially a building with different solar energy enabling options such as renting solar lights for a few pennies and rent to own lighting options including phone charging systems. There is also an option to outright buy solar lights systems. SolarAid has also provided lights and switches inside of households where people are able to turn on a light with just one light switch, something this village has never experienced before.

Along with this, SolarAid teamed up with the Malawi Red Cross after Cyclone Idai hit neighboring countries and caused flooding and high winds forcing 86,000 people to leave their homes and into emergency camps. Interested to see how light can have an impact in aid relief, the Malawi Red Cross and SolarAid provided the emergency camps with 100 solar home systems, and 100 portable solar lights. These systems can help charge phones, keep women and children safe and reduce the risk of dangerous animals or reptiles such as poisonous snakes.

Zambia

Just like in Uganda, SolarAid’s participation in Zambia has positively impacted the school environment. In January 2019, SolarAid’s social enterprise team SunnyMoney in Zambia sought out to rural areas where the majority of the community is living without electricity power lines. They visited a rural school in the Rufunsa district and delivered a solar light library. The solar light library is available for children to use throughout the day to study and do homework, mostly after dark. Throughout the day, there are household chores, farm work, etc., and children, especially girls considering they tend to the majority of the daily household tasks, have little daylight left to do schoolwork. They rely on battery-powered torches or candles, items that don’t last long enough to get an adequate amount of homework done. There are 50 lights available to borrow in the solar light library for as low as 25 Zambian Kwacha (which is roughly two U.S. dollars).

SolarAid is the perfect example of a charity who is taking advantage of the knowledge of renewable energy and using that knowledge for a great cause. With their brilliant innovations made specifically for developing countries, communities will no longer have to suffer to do important tasks throughout the night. As the fight for solar-powered energy continues to increase, these three countries now have the help they need to continue to shine the light in their communities.

– Jessica Curney
Photo: Flickr