The Cambridge Malaysian Education and Development Trust (CMEDT) today welcomed the start of three years of complementary funding from the Templeton World Charity Foundation (TWCF) for their Smart Villages initiative. This collaboratively-funded project will look at technical, entrepreneurial and policy solutions for providing sustainable energy for development in off-grid rural communities in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Over one billion people live without power globally, mainly in small rural communities in the developing world, leading to dire consequences for health, education, wealth and ability to engage in wider society. The availability of new technologies together with innovative business models has enabled some successful projects to alleviate energy poverty. However, as yet there is no agreement on best practice for policy makers and financiers to support such enterprises, and progress is too slow to meet the UN's commitment of energy access for all by 2030.
Welcoming the participation of TWCF, Dr Anil Seal, Executive Director of the CMEDT explained: "Just as Smart Cities are being proposed as a solution to sustainable urban development, our initiative will investigate how to create Smart Villages for rural communities utilising the latest technological developments. I am delighted that TWCF are joining us in this initiative and share our vision."
Project Leaders John Holmes and Bernie Jones elaborated: "Our starting point for the 'smart village' is that access to modern energy services can act as a catalyst for development – in education, health, food security, productive enterprise, environment and participatory democracy. As such, energy access can provide a much needed driver for sustainable economic development and growth for a major (circa 2 billion people), but neglected, sector of the world's economy."
Over the next three years the multidisciplinary Smart Villages team will work with key stakeholders in developing countries to ensure that the initiative is firmly rooted in addressing real-world issues, and achieves effective uptake and impact. International experts in natural and social science, engineering, and the humanities will be brought together with local and regional stakeholders (entrepreneurs, villagers, NGO's, financiers and policy makers) to develop insightful, bottom-up views of the challenges of village energy provision for development, and how they can be overcome.
"Above all we will be listening to local villagers and taking into account their needs and aspirations," continue Holmes and Jones. "Already in our first workshop in Tanzania in June, the report of which is now available, we were rewarded with insights that in previous top-down projects would have been overlooked. We were especially struck by the desire for villages to become more entrepreneur-friendly environments."
The next Smart Villages workshop will be in Malaysia in January 2015, followed by India and Bolivia later in the year. 2016 will see engagement in West Africa and Central America.