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Masy Solar lights: the way for rural communities to adopt renewable technology

Masy Solar pilot project in Palawan Province, the Philippines in mid-2018.

Masy Solar is a humanitarian engineering project that aims to bring solar lights to the thousands of families who need it the most – poor and vulnerable households across rural communities in the Philippines. The grassroots organisation fosters community ownership of an inclusive solar energy program by empowering families, especially women and youths, with leadership and social entrepreneurial skills to drive this positive change.

Program Manager Thomas Da Jose with local community participants.

They recently conducted a pilot project in Palawan Province in the Philippines, comprising workshops and field investigations to empower rural households, particularly women and youth, by developing their design-thinking skills and leadership skills within the context of social entrepreneurship and renewable energy.

We talked to Thomas Da Jose from Masy Solar about the challenges and aspirations of the program.  

What inspired you to start Masy Solar? 

Masy Solar is a passion project that was born from three main elements.

Firstly, it resonated with my sense of purpose as an aspiring humanitarian engineer. After undertaking several engineering internships and community development programs within Australia and abroad, I made a commitment to myself to actively work towards syncing my passions to improve social well-being with my professional engineering practice.

Secondly, I wanted to uplift the lives of rural communities in the Philippines, which stems from my personal connection to my parents’ heritage. They overcame many challenges to migrate to Australia and raise my sister and I in this country I’m lucky to call home. To them, I am very grateful for everything, especially for their commitment to our education. 

Looking back, I am impassioned to use my education to educate rural communities and empower them to be self-sufficient and solve complex challenges.

Thirdly, as cliche as it sounds, I met the right people throughout my journey. My team is comprised of Australian and Filipino members whom I have met through volunteering, work and networking events as far back as 2013. In my pursuit to explore my passions, I reached out to these people and together, we brainstormed ideas, formed partnerships with organisations, and obtained funding towards the planning, development and implementation of our first project.

Masy Solar essentially started off from having the right conversation with the right people and taking the risk to explore what I believed in.

What are the main challenges in bringing renewable technology to rural communities? 

Our pilot project strengthened our understanding of the different challenges experienced by rural communities in the uptake of renewable technologies. These include:

  • Lack of Education: Most households are aware of clean and affordable energy alternatives but they do not understand the benefits of these products and how it can change their lives. Some households expressed their skepticism towards solar power, which is attributed to the lack of knowledge of the negative effects of fossil fuels and resistance to change. There are also limited learning opportunities for females, who are predominately the main caretaker of the household.
  • Lack of Accessibility: Due to geography, households in rural communities including island settlements, are not connected to grid electricity. This has forced households to live without, or resort to unsafe sources for lighting and cooking. 
  • Lack of Affordability: Households in rural communities are mostly low-earning families. They have minimal to no access to financing to enable them to purchase the renewable technology products that are available.
  • Trust: Households expressed mixed opinions regarding the persons or organisations they would trust to implement a clean energy program. Some households preferred government organisations while others preferred local entrepreneurs and non-government organisations.  

All challenges accounted for, the majority of surveyed households expressed their willingness to learn about alternative sources of energy including solar power. This highlights a knowledge gap that households want to explore. This is consistent with most households explaining that they would switch to solar power primarily, or together with electricity, and are willing to pay more for the technology if it was readily accessible.

What are your goals for Masy Solar?

My goals for Masy Solar are defined by its mission to fulfil the UN Sustainable Development Goals with a particular focus on Goal 7, which is “to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern clean energy for all”. 

To achieve this, our organisation is committed to working closely with households and other organisations to educate, ideate, and develop an inclusive solar energy program in rural communities across the Philippines. After all, with the renewable technologies currently available, no family should be left behind.

Masy Solar is still in its early stages but through the hard-work of our team, we successfully conducted a feasibility assessment, earned the trust of the local people, and laid the groundwork for ourselves and others to maximise their social impact.  There is still much work ahead but that never stopped us when we first started. With the right partnerships and funding, we aim to return to Palawan province and spearhead a new project in 2019.

My aspirations for Masy Solar is for the organisation to be an example to others in how a collective of like-minded and passionate people can bring together their experiences and skills to make a difference albeit how challenging or small that change may seemingly be.

A successful pilot project in Palawan Province has paved the way for Masy Solar’s future projects.

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