Millions of people living in remote areas do not have access to electricity and clean water. On the other hand, simple, technology based solutions exist but are not reaching the people in far-flung communities. Ewa Wojkowska has created distribution systems in order for people in remote areas to have access to life-changing technology in Indonesia and other parts of the world.
The New Idea
Ewa has created a system that connects existing but currently disconnected actors to ensure that far-flung communities have access to appropriate technologies to improve their welfare. Together with Kopernik, an organization she and her husband co-founded, Ewa is creating distribution channels that engage local civil society organizations, cooperatives, savings and loans groups, local kiosks, funders or investors, and technology producers to ensure that last-mile communities have access to much needed appropriate technologies to address their basic needs. These technologies include water filters, solar lights and fuel efficient cookstoves.
Creating a system to make the technologies accessible is important, as is making sure that the technologies are affordable. Ewa, moving away from a solely philanthropic approach is balancing business and philanthropy by using donations from corporations and individual donors to pay for the up-front cost of purchasing and shipping technology and then providing technology on a consignment basis to local partners. Then the local partners ensure that people have access to credit or installment payment schemes to further make the technologies affordable.
Unlike other technologies that reach the market without verifying impact, Ewa has developed a feedback mechanism engaging the users and producers and technical university support, to ensure the products work as intended and the people in the last mile are well served. The system provides the ability to find out whether anything has gone wrong - so that this can be addressed - and identify aspects of the technology that need to be improved by the technology producers. With the mechanism, Ewa ensures the technologies brings positive impact to the people, the technologies perform effectively (and if not, that the problems are addressed or the technology is no longer distributed) and the producers are able to best serve their clients.
With the system in place, at least 25,000 life-changing technologies have been serving more than 140,000 people in 14 countries of whom 60,000 are from Indonesia spread across 10 provinces. The system has engaged at least 53 local civil society organizations, 38 technology producers, 24 funding partners and 23 in-kind partners. As it has shown positive impact, aspects of the model are being adopted by programs in big multinational corporations, the World Bank and the UN Agencies.
An estimated 81.6 million Indonesians still do not have access to electricity. About 40 percent of Indonesia’s households—around 24.5 million households, located mainly in rural areas—still rely on traditional biomass energy (mainly fuel wood) as their primary cooking fuel, which emit vast quantities of polluting smoke. There are only 30 percent of city residents who have access to clean water and the number drops to only 10 percent in villages. Great technologies, which are designed for the poor to solve the above mentioned problems are numerous. They can improve people’s lives, nonetheless, their dissemination and adoption are limited esepecially in remote areas. Technologies like solar lights, fuel-efficient cook stoves, agricultural and health tools, water filters are amongst technologies that could change millions of people’s lives, however they are not yet reaching those in greatest needs.
Remote communities are unreachable by road or isolated by heavy rains for months. These are places where there are no couriers, no postal system, no shipping agents and no technology stores. The more remote the community are, the more technology producers are challenged by the high cost for transportation. Due to the expensive product people unfortunately cannot afford the technologies. Furthermore, due to no access to technology information, remote communities have no demand despite they are the most in needs.
Unfortunately there is no support mechanism provided by the government. While some of the technologies are distributed by other organizations, they are generally sold via existing distribution channels including urban or peri-urban stores but not available outside of large capital cities. Moreover, when these products are available in the last mile market, in addition to being unaffordable, there is no mechanism to back up the consumers for its efficacy and impacts. There are some existing NGO or government programs in Indonesia that distribute technologies at no cost to certain communities, these nonetheless are very limited in scope and are not sustained over the long term.
In order for the last mile communities get access to the basic needs such as clean water and electricity, Ewa works to remove three main bottlenecks of accessibility, financing and efficacy, which have hindered the distribution and adoption of appropriate technologies meeting the basic needs. By connecting producers and the untapped local resources of local organizations that understand community needs and demand for technologies, Ewa is ensuring technologies are accessible for remote communities.
Partnering with local civil society organizations, Ewa is doing outreach so that people are able to discover the technologies. Prior to this, Ewa and her team source the best technology designed suitable for the last mile communities. The awareness raising is done through various means - among others these are through technology fairs which are done in the villages. The different technologies are displayed, informations are provided and onsite workshop on how the technology works, used and maintained are also conducted. All of this education is done by the local organisations.
The information is also put on the website and in catalogues. Through the website, Kopernik connects technology (such as water purification equipment, appropriate health technology and solar powered devices) to the people who need it by bringing in corporations and individuals who provide funding towards the upfront purchase of the product. Kopernik showcases innovative products and provides a menu of options accessible to local organizations representing their communities. They now showcase a menu of about 60 technologies necessary in most developing countries. When the last mile communities discover technology through these means they submit proposals for what they need the most. Kopernik then conducts due diligence, and publishes projects on the Kopernik website to raise funds.
Through the local partners’ existing groups and networks Ewa distributes the technologies - these are sold at a locally appropriate price. This mechanism does not create a ‘one-off’ distribution, however, a sustainable hybrid supply chain. Ewa and her team provide training on sales, accounting and repair to equip the local organizations to become a sustainable distribution partner. Once initial set of technologies are introduced and awareness of the technology and its effectiveness is better understood the local organizations can run the supply-chain themselves when appropriate. The model is scalable since it is done through the on-line platform and leveraging the existing local organization’s infrastructure. So far Ewa and her team have been able to reach 140,000 people in 14 countries with life-changing technologies within 3 years through the partnership with at least 53 civil society organizations.
Currently, Ewa and her team are developing new distribution channels in Indonesia through local kiosks through their Technology Kiosk initiative. By establishing a network of technology kiosks (Tech Kiosks), Ewa plans to out-scale in providing a sustainable and scalable supply chain for simple, life-improving technologies to the last mile. The Tech Kiosks operate within already established independently owned and operated small shops (warung), which account for 85 percent of Indonesia's retail market. Kopernik provides technology on a consignment basis to Tech Kiosk operators. To date there are 35 Tech Kiosks in Indonesia.
Furthermore, she is also recruiting local agents who work as a Tech Agents, These sales agents who sell the technologies ‘door-to-door’ within their communities. Tech Agents also receive technologies on a consignment basis from Kopernik. These agents are mobilized through existing local organizations (e.g., local NGOs, women’s groups, savings and loans groups and cooperatives). By working through these new distribution models Ewa is creating business opportunities for those participating as they earn a margin through each sale. To date there are 100 Tech Agents in Indonesia.
Important to the link is the funders whom Ewa engages in the system to provide the upfront cost of the technology and the cost of distributing technology. When projects are fully funded, Kopernik ships the technology to the local partners and people can buy the technology at a locally affordable price through the local partners, paying in full or in instalments. Sometimes, they are sold at commercial price, and other times, they are sold at a subsidized price, in order not to exclude the poorest segments. The local partners repay the money from technology sales to Kopernik, and Kopernik reinvests it in more technology. When people cannot afford the technologies, Ewa and team created a business partnership with the local partners on consignment where they don’t have to take on risk or debt. The local partners distribute the technologies in their communities at a locally affordable price, allowing payment in installments. They then return the revenue to Kopernik, which will reinvest in sending more technologies to the last mile.
Ewa also came with an alternative funding mechanism from the citizen sector where significant amount of funding comes from ordinary individuals to realize Kopernik’s projects. By leveraging the crowd-funding mechanism, Kopernik is offering opportunities for anybody who is interested in getting involved in solving the challenges in the developing countries to do so. Ewa and her team is creating a movement of individuals who care passionately about solving some of the biggest challenges facing the world today – and providing them the means to do so. Supporting projects is not just about money. Those engaged in the process are more aware of the challenges that humanity is facing today and they are empowered to become a catalyst for further change.
Ewa is adding the feedback mechanism to the system that interlocks the distribution, financing and efficacy of the life-changing technologies for people living in remote areas. She works with the local partners to assess the impact of the technology, sharing photos and stories on Kopernik website and with donors. She shares feedback with technology producers, so they can continue to make the best technology for the developing world. For example, several local organizations gave a 5 star rating (out of 5) on a solar light, and is published on the website. This cook stove received more nuanced feedback as it requires the pre-chopping of wood, which eliminated the time saved from the fuel efficiency (thus less time for collecting fire wood) of the stoves. This collection and sharing of impact data and user-feedback on the site enables future technology seekers (local organizations) to make an informed decision about the technology to choose. The donors can also decide on which project to fund, based on the evidence and previous users satisfaction. The technology providers can use this feedback to further improve their products, as it has already become the service standard like in the cook stove. Based on the feedback collected, the inventor swiftly developed a new model that addresses the concerns. Those aiming to enter this market can learn from the lessons, and can create new solutions to fill the gap.
Ewa was born in Kalisz, Poland where she lived until she was 9. Her Father was a leader in the Solidarity resistance movement. Her Father had spent much of the early 80s imprisoned for his activism and had been receiving threats that her brother and Ewa would be harmed. They decided then to leave Poland in 1984 as refugees and got asylum in Australia.
She grew up surrounded by people who were continuously fighting for social justice. This experience was very formative for her. As a teenager she was very actively involved as a human rights activist primarily through Amnesty International where she first volunteered and then worked until her early 20s. During this time she became very involved with the East Timorese community in Melbourne in the lead up to the popular consultation. In 2000 she joined the Australian Volunteers International program and left for East Timor to assist in the reconstruction process. This was a completely life-changing and formative experience for her. From the local organization she worked with, she gained tremendous connections into the local community. She learned that everything has to be grounded in local culture and in local knowledge, have solid relationships and trust with the local community. This has informed everything she has done ever since.
Ewa later joined the United Nations as a United Nations Volunteer and worked in the remote enclave of Oecusse, East Timor as a field officer. Seeing a tremendous gap in the provision of services for, and protection of vulnerable women, together with a group of local Oecusse women, she started a local women's organization (Centro Feto Enclave Oecusse) that would provide shelter to women who were victims of domestic violence. This was also a place where women could come together, get advice and learn new skills to become more independent during a time of great vulnerability.
She moved to Indonesia and worked at the United Nations Development Programme on their justice programme. She realized that all justice support programmes were focusing on strengthening formal institutions of justice (such as the courts, prosecution and the police), which are very important. But unfortunately they remain completely inaccessible by the majority of the population. Seeing this, she developed a new program to enhance access to justice for poor communities. She conducted research to learn about how people were actually resolving their disputes. She led the program design that would work with those existing dispute resolution structures (such as village or religious structures) – structures that people already used, but to work on improving them so that they were more fair and just for vulnerable populations such as women, children and minorities. The resulting program won the most innovative development program award in the Asia-Pacific region and she was able to mobilize USD 12 million for its implementation. The program has been widely written about and her research and design work has been published in several publications - as a result this type of programming has since become common.
In 2007 she worked in Sierra Leone where she saw the country’s magnitude of poverty. To give a bigger impact, Ewa started to experiment outside of her regular work. For example - having seen the local fish mongers wasting a lot of fish because lack of access to ice or any cooling technology, she introduced simple cooler boxes to extend the life of their product so that they could earn more money and there would also be less food waste. However, Ewa failed, as she didn’t have the community trust to convince. She was continuously experimenting and trying to figure out the best model in how to solve the problem in a more effective way by tapping into the potential of a much broader community. When she was living in New York, she came up with an idea to start with proven solutions (a catalogue of life-changing technologies) and the community could choose the appropriate solutions in accordance to their needs and context. Ewa and her partner Toshi, started piloting with local partners in September 2009 in Indonesia and East Timor using their existing networks. To answer the massive needs, both then left New York and set up Kopernik in Indonesia in early 2010.