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NGO or business? Hybrid!

There has been a lot going on in rural electrification in the past several years, but nonetheless, little has changed. On the contrary: the number of people who have to live without electricity continues to grow. Has the time come for a new approach?

On the one hand, charitable NGOs are active in this area, and, on the other hand, profit-oriented businesses. Despite a strict dissociation of their working methods, both must accept that neither the one nor the other approach can, per se, substantially foster rural electrification. An NGO lacks entrepreneurial thinking, which is what first allows for sustainability and growth. A commercial enterprise lacks the financial possibilities to build up a service network in rural regions, and, thus, the chance to guide the population in their long-term development.Yet solar energy is more than just electricity. It offers people an opportunity for social development and economic prosperity. In order to unfurl its full potential, ideological walls must be torn down, and the advantages of both paths merged to one single approach. While a donation-financed NGO approach is particularly suitable for initiating economic growth in rural areas, accompanying social developments, and offering the necessary professional training, a profit-oriented approach shows its strengths in terms of efficient and financially sustainable provision of solar products.
An intelligent combination of these two ways will decisively change rural development. The Solar Energy Foundation, together with its subsidiary SunTransfer, is successfully pursuing such a hybrid approach. It is admittedly so new and the ideological walls between NGOs and businesses so high, many people find it difficult to understand. Nonetheless, the time has come to set out on a new path, so that not only a lot goes on, but also, a lot changes, permanently.  (hs) 

Harald Schützeichel is founder and chair of the Stiftung Solarenergie – Solar Energy Foundation, www.stiftung-solarenergie.org.

Source: sun-connect 5 | April 2011 (p. 1)