Courage, Creativity and Renewable Energy

Social entrepreneurs are often credited with having a one-track mind. There is no barrier strong enough or challenge tall enough to stop these positive deviants from achieving their goals.

For Ashoka Fellow Tri Mumpuni, not even the harrowing experience of being held hostage by separatist rebels in Indonesia’s jungle could dissuade her from completing her social mission: empowering citizens at the bottom of the pyramid with green technologies and renewable energy. And like Tri Mumpini, Fellow Harish Hande has forever had a clear vision for change, though it was once obscured by the directive of overzealous business partners with dreams of rapid solar tech expansion.

These Fellows’ perseverance in the face of failure has shaped them into the social change champions they are today — and earned them distinction as the newest Magsaysay laureates. Every year, the Magsaysay Award Foundation recognizes six innovative activists that are addressing issues of human development in Asia with courage and creativity.

Simply put, Mumpini and Hande are two of the best.

But how did they do it? Tri Mumpini, a longtime supporter of rural development, founded the People-Centered Business and Economic Institute (IBEKA) in 1993 with the help of her husband, Iskandar Kuntoadji, who had years of experience promoting hydropower technology. For almost two decades now, IBEKA has been a leader in developing micro-hydropower systems, providing electricity for more than half a million impoverished rural Indonesian citizens.

Micro-hydropower systems are a reliable, effective, and volume-efficient alternative to traditional energy production methods. Though much simpler, these systems are powerful enough to generate the electricity for an entire small community.

IBEKA provides support in fund-facilitation and income-generating activities to further promote the role of hydropower in development and design. IBEKA’s focus on community participation has also led to the development of electric cooperatives, as well as technical management and resource conservation initiatives for villagers.

Even more impressive, however, is that Mumpini has successfully lobbied for changes in state policy that now allows independent micro-hydropower plants to sell electricity to the national energy grid — a significant victory in community investment as well as in the pursuit of long-term, scalable renewable energy offerings. "Electricity is not our main goal, but the potential to build villages that are economically empowered,” said Mumpini. “This is my highest task."

While Mumpini’s rural energy service harnesses the energy of water stored in dams, India’s Harish Hande counts on the power of the sun. Hande, an energy engineer with degrees from the University of Massachusetts-Lowell and the Indian Institute of Technology (ITT) at Kharagpur, founded SELCO India in 1995.

Since then, SELCO has undergone several transformations; the company originally offered the rural poor photovoltaic (PV) lighting systems, water heaters, and cooking stoves, and now designs and installs solar technology applications specifically designed to meet customer needs. SELCO allows rural communities to afford sustainable energy technologies by linking the sale of its technologies with service credit institutions, including rural banks and cooperatives. But it also enables self-starting citizens to play a role in maintaining solar products, a responsibility not often granted to everyday consumers.

Hande’s social enterprise is among the world's largest solar technology providers to the poor, freeing them from the classical constraints of fuel-based products. SELCO has touched the lives of more than 120,000 households by installing solar lighting, and, more importantly, by instilling faith in the possibilities of business-community partnerships.

"Until the poor become asset creators, we are not empowering them,” said Hande. "India has a fantastic opportunity to solve two huge problems: reduce poverty and combat climate change. This is India's chance to combine and address both issues in a holistic way."

Ashoka extends an enthusiastic congratulations to its Fellows Tri Mumpini and Harish Hande, and trusts that they’ll continue to change the world with undaunted courage.