October 06, 2015
We wanted to take the opportunity today to let you know about some major changes happening at Potential Energy. As our donors, supporters, partners and friends, we know you care deeply about our work, and we hope you enjoy learning about the changes we’re going through.
Beginning this Fall, Potential Energy will be transitioning the operations of our Berkeley-based organization to East Africa. In order to make this transition, we are hiring for a locally-based Managing Director to lead our work in Uganda, and are transitioning our Sudanese operations directly to our in-field partners. Our key leadership team in the US will take on roles on Potential Energy’s Board of Directors, and other operational positions will shift to the field and/or will be staffed on a volunteer basis.
In reflecting on these changes, and the motivations for them, we’ve found it helpful to first consider our beginnings. Back in 2005, when a small team of scientists traveled to Darfur, Sudan to meet with women living in refugee camps, we could not have imagined what the next decade would bring. The early team wanted to make a meaningful difference in the lives of the women living in the camps. In particular, they wanted to help alleviate the burden of leaving the camps to collect firewood with which to cook. This act of leaving the camps made women vulnerable to attack, as well as took many hours out of their days. The early team that traveled to Darfur brought with them scientific expertise, open minds, and an eagerness to get to know what life was like for women living in Darfur. They spent time living and working with women, and upon returning to the testing labs of Berkeley, they designed a product that reduced wood consumption by half as compared to traditional cooking methods. This product was called the Berkeley-Darfur Stove, (or “BDS” for short) and it would go on to improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
Today, the Berkeley-Darfur stove has improved the lives of over ¼ million people. With 45,000+ stoves in use throughout Darfur, and thousands more about to find their way into the hands of families in the region, the BDS is making a meaningful difference for many families. This scale has been made possible through deep partnerships with manufacturers, suppliers, distributors, and evaluation professionals. We’ve worked with our primary partner in Sudan, the Sustainable Action Group, to build up a network of sales agents in the region, operate an assembly shop, set up after-sales maintenance campaigns, and monitor the impact of our work. We’ve also laid the groundwork for a carbon finance project that will start earning revenue by marketing carbon-offset credits in early 2016. We’ve done all of this and more with support from our donors, our partners, our advisors and our board.
With this progress as a backdrop, over the past year we’ve also expanded our reach to additional markets, conducting trials in Uganda, Burkina Faso and Ghana, as well as finalizing our trials and market study in Ethiopia. Through these new market expansions, we sought to build on the knowledge we’d gained by working in Darfur to find ways to improve the way the world cooks in other countries and contexts. Our trials have taught us many vital things about what we can do to build sustainable businesses at home and around the world.
As we look back on the past 10 years, we’re proud of all we’ve accomplished. We’ve made a huge impact on the world, and we thank all of our partners for everything they’ve done to enable our work at home and abroad. We now find ourselves at an inflection point; As we look to the future, we know we want to bring clean energy access to women and families in other regions, in addition to Darfur. To do this we must optimize our resources and empower our partners to run program operations locally. We know that long-term success will rely on our local partners to manage the difficult market context of Sudan, and we know they are up to the challenge. We also know that if we are going to be successful in any of our new markets, we must invest there heavily, right from the start. So, we’ve made the decision to execute some shifts in our operational focus. We’re sharing these changes with you, our supporters, as we know you care about our work and the impact we seek to have on the world:
1) We’re transitioning our Sudanese work fully to our local partners: Leveraging deep and long-lasting relationships with our on-the-ground partners, including Sustainable Action Group and Malam Darfur Peace and Development, we are working to transition day to day operations to them and their teams. While we will continue to support their efforts through advisory and connections, all future project and partner subsidy will come solely from carbon offset revenues (described below) from BDS stoves in Darfur.
2) We’re finalizing a carbon offset project for Darfur: This project, which will provide carbon credits for sale on the voluntary carbon markets under Gold Standard certification, is on track to be verified and validated by the close of 2015. This will allow us to offer our first carbon credits for sale in early 2016. Revenue from the carbon credit sales will be shared with our on-the-ground partners in Sudan to enable them to keep their programs running.
3) We’re expanding our “New Market” work in Uganda: After a number of months of trials in 3 countries across the African continent (Insert blog post link), we see the most promise for building and incubating a sustainable business in Uganda. We’re hiring for a Managing Director to be based in Kampala, and we’re deepening our relationship with our on-the-ground partners in order to facilitate our efforts in this market.
4) We’re transitioning our resources and staffing to Africa, and are shifting US-based positions to volunteer and advisory roles in order to utilize organizational resources in efficiently and effectively. We’re also building up our Board of Directors to include additional headcount that will help support our work and enable our team on the ground to continue to do great things.
With these changes, we’re entering a new phase for our organization – we’re leaner, more nimble, and are committed to spending the vast majority of our resources on the ground, in the markets in which we work. As with all change, we know that with it will bring great opportunity, and also some challenges. We’re working hard to enable a smooth transition of the Darfur Stoves Project to our local partners. To ensure continuity, our Executive Director and Director of Strategy and Operations are shifting to Board roles, overseeing the work that will be done in the field as we transition to this next phase. Our current board is shifting to accommodate this new organizational structure. And we hope, our supporters will continue to engage in our work and follow our progress.
We’re also sharing our learnings with our partners, and friends. Stay tuned for another blog post soon that shares some reflections on what we’ve learned from working in Sudan. Thanks for all you’ve done so far to make PE a success – we look forward to continuing to work with you to create a better world for women and their families.
Michelle Kreger & the PE Team