Grameen Shakti: Changing Bangladesh from the Villages
Updated: Apr 7
Sustainability may seem like a new buzzword, a relatively new concept for big business across the world. In Bangladesh however, Grameen Shakti has uplifted millions through their green energy efforts ever since 1996. Operating as a not-for-profit endeavor under the esteemed Grameen Bank, Grameen Shakti creates opportunities for Bangladesh’s poorest to access renewable energy. Their exemplary work has made their organization one of the world’s finest in innovating in the renewable energy space for the past 20 years. Join us for MyEO Engage in Dhaka for the Global Summit 2020 to find out more about how they radically uplifted their home country’s mindset towards renewable energy.
Taking it to the villages
To understand Grameen Shakti necessitates understanding Bangladesh’s unique business environment. Modern cities have risen across the country, with electricity coming a second thought to many. So much of the nation’s population however live outside the densely populated cities, and instead live in rural villages. These village locations aren’t ideal for building up any typical business enterprise. With the elements constantly battering the countryside, and basic utilities not a guarantee, few businesses dare to invest in these people. Grameen Shakti however doesn’t make traditional business decisions, let alone ones that guarantee success and profits.
In the mid 90s, 70% of Bangladesh’s population didn’t have access to electricity. They relied on kerosene lamps when night fell. Few if any had access to the power grid that was fueling the modern cities. At the same time, climate change affected many of these agricultural-focused villages, with food security nowhere close to being guaranteed. These conditions made for a difficult environment for Grameen Shakti to start providing renewable energy for those on the fringes of society.
These inherent challenges did not deter Shakti from investing in these villages. Following the model that had worked so well for Grameen’s primary banking operations, Shakti began their business knowing that there would be a chance to succeed. Over the years, Grameen Bank worked in the villages, pioneering a revolutionary microfinance system that saw them succeed by focusing on people’s needs more than chasing profit. Their efforts to provide capital funding for village based clients that keep transactions manageable for their lenders have changed the way many people thought a social enterprise could operate.
Grameen Bank’s efforts to provide for these more remote communities set a template for Shakti to provide energy solutions to the same rural populations. When you hear Dipal Chandra Baura talk about harnessing the power of solar for Bangladesh, you begin to understand the passion to deliver clean energy to the masses.
As the co-founder of Grameen Bank & the managing director of Grameen Shakti, Dipal emphasizes that now, even beggars can access solar power. The system that his company designed allows virtually anyone access LED lights, television units, and phone chargers even in the most remote villages. To some, this may not seem like much, but for many of these villagers, this changes their lives radically.
Traditionally, villages were reliant on kerosene gas for their energy needs, especially for lighting needs. Burning kerosene just to get a small flame going was both inefficient and damaging to homes at large. Dipal Baura went to the villages knowing that offering villagers solar panels would not be an easy sell. When they began selling the home based units, it would take their marketing and sales team about 10 to 15 trips before villagers invested in the solar powered units. Today, people seek Grameen Shakti out for not only for solar power, but biogas cooking solutions as well.
Making a green dream reality
One of Shakti’s core principles is that it exists as a not-for-profit company. They are dedicated to creating impact, not necessarily capital gains, not necessarily turning a profit, but rather changing lives through renewable energy. How a company earns enough to operate is by following a similar micro-loan system that Grameen Bank employs. By structuring loans to have weekly payments in small increments, Grameen Shakti allows anyone to pay for a home solar system in roughly three years. With terms like this, many of the Bangledeshi villages have signed up for their own solar setups to improve their lives drastically.
In rural Bangladeshi society, it is actually quite common for women to focus on helping their families survive day-to-day by ensuring that there is food to eat, water to drink, and enough fire wood give them warmth. Women weren’t always considered key to economic progress, that was until Grameen figured out their key role in their mission. When Shakti began, the company was already aware of the potential that women in the villages presented. Their knowledge of community dynamics makes them incredible sales and marketing people, without many realizing it on the onset.
Grameen Shakti however takes things to another level by setting up women-specific training for those looking for work in the installation and after-sales force of the company. Grameen Shakti’s emphasis on employing female engineers and technicians has made the installation and maintenance aspects of the operation more approachable, especially in such a male dominated society. In the process, many of these women without degrees are pursuing careers in a technical field that has traditionally been male dominated.
The Real Impact Grameen Shakti has continued to bring radically life altering change to the poorest of the poor in Bangladesh. Given that their work's sample size stretches across 20 years now, their massive impact can be seen all over. International recognition has come in the form of a Right Livelihood Award , a Zayed Future Energy Prize, and development grants from The United Nations showing that their work undeniably impactful.
The true impact of Grameen Shakti's efforts are best seen at home, in the heart of Bangladesh. The millions of families that have gained access to reliable utilities has given an entire generation a fighting chance in a nation that once faced almost insurmountable poverty. Today, those who lived in the villages can dream of a better future where they can rise up and live the way they were always meant to.
Come join us in Dhaka this 6-7 March 2020 as MyEO Engage and Grameen hope to show everyone how sustainable development can be built at the MyEO Engage Global Summit. For more details on the Summit, check out the official website at https://eobangladesh-summit.com/