Community Voices: Juan Francisco Velasquez

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

clean cookstove guatemala

Chico and Florida are happy to have a safer and healthier home with their new clean
cookstove.

In every country where Trees, Water & People (TWP) builds clean cookstoves, we train local citizens in the design and construction of the stoves. These dedicated individuals work with community members throughout the entire process to create stoves that meet their specific cooking needs. In addition, stoves are built using local materials. Families invest in the stove by providing a portion of the materials needed as well as investing time in helping to construct the stoves.

Imagine: more than 63,000 cookstoves built to date, all designed and constructed by local citizens! This accomplishment gets at the core of TWP’s mission and vision – an emphasis on community-based natural resource management that benefits both people and the planet. Our projects are not successful unless local people are involved each step of the way.

Sebastian Africano clean cookstove

Inspecting Chico’s cookstove and happy to see how well it works for the family.

During our most recent visit to Guatemala, we saw this model in action. Juan Francisco “Chico” Velasquez and his wife Florida Vitalia welcomed us into their home to see their new clean cookstove. Chico and his family have benefited from the stove for eight months now, greatly reducing their fuelwood use and indoor air pollution in the home. Our partners at Utz Che’ worked with community members to design this stove to meet their unique cooking preferences.

Chico says, “Before we had the clean cookstove, I never knew food could smell so good! Now that there is no smoke in the kitchen, you can smell dinner cooking from outside the house and all the way down the street.”

To learn more about our Clean Cookstove Program click here.

Access to Clean Energy: From Pilot Project to Sustainable Enterprise

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In 2011, armed with a grant awarded under the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA), nonprofit organization Trees, Water & People launched an initiative to increase the use of clean technologies in several Latin American countries. That pilot project has since spawned a social enterprise that is making solar lighting products accessible to customers in rural areas of Central America.

It all began with a three-year, $1.2 million ECPA grant awarded by the U.S. State Department to Colorado-based Trees, Water & People (TWP) for an initiative called “Improving Access to Clean Energy in Latin America.” The goal was to develop effective ways to reach off-grid markets with climate-friendly products such as clean cookstoves, solar lanterns, and small solar home systems.

While such products provide tangible benefits—cleaner indoor air, reduced expenditures on conventional energy, and higher-quality lighting and cooking—a major challenge is how to create a sustainable supply chain to reach markets with the greatest need. Last-mile distribution is complex, unpredictable, and expensive. Roads are sometimes impassable, mobile communications are often unreliable, and many rural households have no access to financing.

TWP worked hand in hand with a social enterprise called PowerMundo—which had tackled some of these problems in Peru—and with partners in Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador to develop a sustainable commercial model for hard-to-reach areas in Central America.

After trying several different approaches, TWP found that existing rural institutions such as agricultural cooperatives, nongovernmental organizations, and rural savings and loans groups could be effective distributors and retailers of the clean-technology products. Since such groups often already have a credit relationship with small-scale farmers for agricultural investments, they can provide these same farmers with the payment terms they need to invest in products that have a true impact on their lives.

solar light Honduras

Last year, TWP took a step toward making the initiative sustainable by establishing a social enterprise called Luciérnaga LLC (the name means “firefly”) to serve Central America with solar lighting products. “We wanted to create a vehicle through which the project could continue to grow,” explained TWP International Director Sebastián Africano.

Luciérnaga fills a business niche by providing a link between manufacturers and small local distributors. It imports solar lighting products in bulk to a central location in El Salvador, handling logistical details and ordering in large enough quantities to keep the price per unit low. The items can then be distributed over land to partners and clients throughout the region, in Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala. Any profits would be reinvested in the company.

The growth of this business model and the birth of Luciérnaga as an independent company with an international presence show how short-term grant funding can be leveraged toward longer-term sustainable development objectives, according to Africano.

Today, TWP is working to standardize its methods in each country and implement a mobile phone-based monitoring system where distributors can keep track of their sales, collections, and warranty processes through a common online database. The goal is to keep costs low and provide a new source of income for rural individuals and institutions while potentially reaching millions of households in Central America that don’t have access to electricity.

Since launching this program, Luciérnaga and PowerMundo have sold close to 10,000 solar lighting products through their networks, providing illumination, device-charging capabilities, healthier households, and over $200 in cash savings per year, per product, to more than 50,000 people in Latin America.

This post was originally published by the Energy and Climate Partnership of Americas. To view the original blog post click here.

Notes from the Field: Indianpreneurship

by Jamie Folsom, National Director

ONABEN's Trainers in Training!

ONABEN’s Trainers in Training!

Our Native American Business Network (ONABEN) hosted their Indianpreneurship Training of the Trainers in Portland, Oregon a few weeks ago. I was so excited to attend and have the chance to meet business and economic development professionals from all over Indian Country.

There is nothing better than being in a room full of people who share your goals of helping others get jobs and create jobs in their communities, especially for Native people because we often live so far from one another. It was truly an event that brought to mind Sitting Bull’s words: “Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.”

ONABEN1TWP has adapted the 12-week Indianpreneurship curriculum for its week-long Green Business Development in Indian Country (GBDIC) training. We focus on renewable energy, sustainable housing and other applications of green technology that will benefit Native communities. The training helps with the nuts and bolts of budgeting and marketing for students who are considering starting their own businesses. They leave the week-long course with a foundation for creating a strong business plan. The Training of the Trainers gave me new ideas for GBDIC as part of our efforts to foster better business skills, particularly in the area of creating a solid financial foundation for starting a business.

Thank you ONABEN, and those who attended, for sharing your knowledge and skills. Whatever good we do for our people today, our children and grandchildren will be watching and passing on to their children, so we better get good things done!

To learn more about ONABEN please visit www.onaben.org

Notes from the Field: Sharing Knowledge for Climate Adaption in Nicaragua

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

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Members of CADPI gain hands-on experience building clean cookstoves.

Our partners at Proleña in Nicaragua were proud to receive a delegation from the Center for the Autonomy and Development of Indigenous People (CADPI) at their headquarters and demonstration site in Managua last week. CADPI is a social organization dedicated to the investigation and study of themes related to indigenous peoples of Nicaragua, Central America, and the Caribbean.

CADPI sent a delegation of three men and six women from the Autonomous Region of the North Atlantic, or RAAN as it’s known in Nicaragua, to investigate improved cookstove options for their remote region, which is experiencing rapid deforestation at the hand of cattle ranchers and other interests.

At Proleña, the group tested a variety of cookstoves, but decided that the most appropriate was the Emelda cookstove. This stove was designed in partnership with Proleña to better meet the needs of the most rural communities. After seeing the stove in action, the team received a step-by-step photo presentation on cookstove design, construction, use and maintenance, then built their own model under Proleña’s guidance.

These are the types of workshops we look forward to hosting on a larger scale at Proleña and TWP’s National Center for Biomass Energy and Climate Change, which is currently under construction in nearby La Paz Centro, Nicaragua. Teaching motivated groups techniques and technologies to both mitigate and adapt to climate change leads to local capacity and leadership in the struggle for sustainable resource management.

Love our work? Tell the world!

toprated2014

If you love our work then tell the world! GreatNonprofits – a review site like TripAdvisor – is honoring highly reviewed nonprofits with their 2014 Top-Rated Awards. Will you help us raise visibility for our work by posting a review of your experience with us? All reviews will be visible to potential donors and volunteers. It’s easy and only takes 3 minutes!

To write a review of Trees, Water & People please visit: http://greatnonprofits.org/reviews/write/trees-water-people

Notes from the Field: El Salvador Nursery in Full Bloom

El Salvador tree nursery

In El Porvenir, El Salvador, staff members are busy with a full nursery of 30,000 seedlings that are now ready to be planted. We grow a wide variety of trees in this nursery including avocado, orange, cacao, cashew, and mahogany. This nursery provides local communities with a source for high-quality fruit, nut, coffee, cacao and hardwood trees.

Farmers most often purchase our trees as an investment – to diversify the agricultural products going to market from their plots and increase their income. Additionally, they invest in trees to improve soils and increase biodiversity on their land.  Droughts this year across Central America have highlighted the importance of diversity and tree crops, as these are often more resilient in the face of water shortages.

To learn more about our Reforestation Program and how you can support our tree planting efforts please visit our website: www.treeswaterpeople.org

Project Update: Lighting homes in rural Honduras

solar light Honduras

Nearly 50% of the 600 solar household lighting systems we sent to Honduras have been installed. We’re providing 1,200 new LED light points, 600 USB charging ports for cell phones and other small devices, and a new level of dignity for rural families that have lived their entire nocturnal lives by the light of candles, low quality flashlights, and contaminating kerosene lamps. Donors to our Catapult project helped to fund 125 of the lights in this shipment, allowing us to reach many more families in need of clean energy solutions for their homes.

Get personal

solar light Honduras

Miriam Leonel Bonilla

“Many of our customers used to use ocote (a local pine that is used as a candle), and the smoke really bothered them. Or else they would buy candles and flashlights, and that was really expensive. They are very happy with their plantitas – solar lights!” -Miriam Leonel Bonilla, solar light user and distributor, Las Marías, Honduras

Risks and challenges

Honduras is one of the most dangerous countries in the world, and our vendors and promoters live with risk every day. We are lucky to have a dedicated team of people across the country that see the opportunities that exist in solar energy. They believe that the benefits that solar energy brings to their families and communities who buy the systems outweigh the challenges in getting them into the field.

What we’ve learned

solar light HondurasThis order of Barefoot Power solar household systems were our first test of a new international supply chain that has us ordering product in bulk to a central warehouse in El Salvador, from which the products are distributed by land to four different countries. Every step of that process contained a lesson in how to be more efficient in getting these products to the families that need them most. On a macro level, we have learned that we have one of the most innovative approaches to getting products to several Central American countries at once. In Honduras, we have learned that whoever can provide households with the best customer experience will be the one to succeed in expanding the great opportunities in renewable energy for the developing world.

Next steps

Working with social impact technology company Dimagi, we will be piloting a new mobile data collection app called CommSell. This app will allow our field staff to complete surveys on an Android phone, in the field, and automatically populate a database that tells us where our products are, how long they’ve been there, and how much money they are saving users. We can also use this information to conduct follow-up visits and maintenance as needed.