After a half dozen trips into the developing world to implement small scale energy projects for impoverished people, one of my students (Ryan) and I decided the best way to increase our impact both in numbers of people and lifetime of the project was to turn our efforts into creating a financially self-sustaining social venture. That makes us social entrepreneurs. We are launching small energy companies in remote rural villages where people live without any power (and not much hope).
Regular readers (hi Mom) will recall that last November we entered and won a contest sponsored by the Inter-American Development Bank to bring energy access to those without it in rural parts of Latin America. Over 1000 groups entered the contest and yet, somehow, we won one of the 21 prizes for $200,000!! The only problem is, we can't use the money to pay salaries for expatriates or to buy a vehicle. These are two things we need with some urgency.
Along the way we picked up Brent, also a Baylor graduate and entrepreneur, as he came back from a two-year stint with the Peace Corps in Peru. In February, Ryan and Brent moved to La Ceiba, Honduras to start the Honduran company Energía Para Aldeas (which means Energy for Villages).
When I was in Honduras in May with another team of students, I got to meet with Brent and Ryan and also Sergio, our only full-time Honduran employee and good friend. In the pictures above: I'm the old guy, Brent is the good-looking one, Sergio is the brownest, and Ryan is the one who has gone native and now wears the Central American style hat and never shaves!
So where are we? We are struggling and a little bit discouraged. We are finding that, despite our experience working in Honduras, everything still takes longer than we expected. Everything. It's worse because the guys have to use the bus/taxi system to get around; we still haven't had adequate donations/investments to purchase a vehicle. They guys are renting a house that also serves as their office, and neither has air conditioning. When they need to get to a village they ride the bus out to the nearest point along the highway. Then they get off and walk the rocky roads up into the hills to where the villages are. Sergio has lost 40 pounds working with us! But they always have to watch the clock so that they leave in time to walk back and catch the last bus to the city. Either that or they have to come prepared to spend the night.
No one said this was going to be easy. And we aren't giving up. But we may have to make some changes soon. Stay tuned...