Turning grandmothers into engineers

Published on Wednesday, 23 November 2016

“It’s a kind of miracle this process of learning through the exchange of experiences with women around the world. They feel empowered, strong, full of energy and passion.”

– Maria Cristina Papetti, Enel Director of Sustainability and Shared Practices

In Latin America Enel has established a partnership with Barefoot College to develop skills, spread knowledge and bring energy to isolated communities.

Launched in 2012, the partnership between Enel and the institution connects women in isolated communities to education specialists and modern equipment, allowing them to install and maintain solar energy systems in their homes.

“Women of all ages – even grandmothers – travel to India to learn how to deal with solar panels and adapt them to their own realities.”

The programme exposes women of all ages to experience and education processes that transform lives. Enel funds these women’s training, taking them to India where they learn all they need to know about handling and maintaining the panels.

When they return home not only to they connect their communities to solar energy, they also share the knowledge acquired with other people, multiplying the impact of the new technology and accelerating access to clean and reliable electricity.

The basic solar kits the women build are enough to power four light sources, charge a mobile phone and a portable solar torch. Only in Latin America more than 3,500 kits have been developed and distributed through the programme, directly benefitting 19,000 people.

The project in Brazil

The project’s representative in Brazil is Ana Paula Pereira, who lives in the town of Andaraí in the Chapada Diamantina National Park, a rural area in Bahia. Since her return from India armed with the new knowledge in 2014, she has helped 77 families in the communities of Fazenda Velha and Estrada Velha do Garapa gain access to electricity. Another 21 families are about to have it installed in their homes. 

The 100 solar panels donated by Enel Green Power to these families have generated savings in their homes, increased their feeling of safety and enabled them to engage in activities after dark such as fishing and pest disease control in agricultural areas. It has also improved access to information and increased opportunities for socialisation among neighbours, among other benefits.

The initiative also resulted in mobilising the local people to build community centres. Enjoying their own space allows residents to engage in education programmes within their own communities such as training courses.

Each centre will also offer a place for activities related to the project such as meetings and gatherings with government representatives and health officers, strengthening the community’s relations and its development. Enel Green Power is supporting the development of projects for the centres and building permit applications – the communities are located in a conservation area – while providing the necessary materials to build them. Construction will be supervised by professionals working for the Andaraí government.

Promoting equality through education

Spreading knowledge among women in the programme is essential for the sustainability of the Barefoot College partnership as it ensures they have the necessary skills to manage the solar systems during its 20-year life span.

The initiative goes beyond creating jobs or supplying renewable energy through the solar panels. The focus on women means it also promotes gender equality and empowerment as it offers to them the ability to successfully perform a job that is usually the province of men.