With the innovation and growth in sustainable energy solutions and the social awareness to move towards a greener energy source, policymakers and business involved in the sustainable energy sector can work together to design sustainable education units (broadband, computers etc), that run off solar in community-focused institutions – schools, libraries, community centers etc.
As with everything in life, the Pareto principle applies to this challenge. If we can focus on the 20% of the people that are concentrated in the most densely populated rural areas, and provide them with alternate means of energy and broadband we can make huge inroads into this challenge in a short space of time.
There are over 1 billion people that rely solely on other sources of power to cook and conduct business, i.e. wood, candles, paraffin, solar and other alternative means of generating power and light.
So when we say “they need broadband so they can have a better education, they say give us electricity so it’s easier for us to cook our food”.
Maslow‘s hierarchy of needs explains that psychological needs, the need for water, food, shelter, sleep, clothing, and reproduction form the foundation of a person’s needs.
Self-actualization and the desire to become the most that one can be is right at the top of the pyramid as he describes it.
This creates a huge disconnect in what policymakers see as vital when it comes to education and the actual needs as perceived by hundreds of millions of people living in abject poverty.
So how can we overcome this dilemma?
For hundreds of millions of people in the world, particularly in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, rural communities do not have the necessary infrastructure in place for the basic supply of electricity from the government.
I remember how many communities have coin-operated pool tables that would rely solely on candles to light the playing surface of the pool table so that they could continue their game once the sun went down. Reading and studying was a real challenge.
A very important consideration here is that even though the policymakers may decide the fate of particular communities when it comes to deciding where to start, that community is normally run by a local community leader or chief and a tribal council that controls the business, settlement, and the future of a particular community.
It’s very important for policymakers to engage with these leaders to get their buy into the project, or else the sustainability of building an educational center with broadband capabilities that runs on alternative energy sources will not be viable.
Creative solutions need to be found that are inclusive of all members in the community, some of which are uneducated and may see education as a threat to their position and authority in the community.
In this way, they will support and protect the education centers from theft and vandalism, and ensure that the benefits derived from the use of these initiatives will flow back to the community and benefit its members at large.