Empowering Africans to Power Africa

with Innovative Locally Co-Designed Electric Generators

Part 1: Co-Designing Electric Generators

Around the United States and Europe as well as China, engineers, designers, and engineering students are designing products for "the Other 90%" of the world. Throughout Africa, technical students are only being taught to fix the technology that these engineers design and import to their country (cars, solar panels, etc.). It is time for a paradigm shift. It is time to show the world that Africa has the experience, equipment, and expertise to co-design and build their own energy generating devices. We need to encourage and prove to organizations like "Design for The Other 90%" and "Engineers Without Borders" to make this paradigm shift with us. A paradigm shift which includes community members with projects that are longer than a spring break or short summer emersion trip.... projects which are community-based and driven for long term sustainability both in terms of environmental improvements as well as maintainance.

Furthermore, we believe and can show that Uganda has the knowledge, expertise, and local materials to design their own electricity generating devices. The sole dependency on imports is not sustainable in terms of higher costs and long term reparability. However, these devices must compete with imports and therefore knowing how to take the designs to market is being development in conjunction with the physics and innovations of building the devices. This is being developed not on a purely maximizing profit-making economic model, but based on maximizing social benefit based on Nobel Prize winner Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus’ work.

Part 2: Social Entreperneurship

Before beginning the discussion of the electrical systems built in Uganda by local technicians, I want to discuss Bill Gates interpretation of the capitalistic system. Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus wrote about Bill Gates speech in an Op-Ed editorial last year. Take the four following quotes within the Op-Ed: [1]

"I see traditional capitalism as a half-developed structure. It ignores the humanity within all of us."

"Moneymaking is an important part of humanity, but it is not the only part. Caring, concern, sharing, empathy: all of these aspects also must be considered when developing an economic framework that takes the whole person into account."

"A social business aims to maximize the positive impact on society while earning enough to cover its costs, and, if possible, generate a surplus to help the business grow. The owner never intends to take any profit for himself."

"Traditional capitalism doesn't tap into that universal desire. Capitalism delivers limited results because it takes too narrow a view of human nature, assuming people are one-dimensional, concerned only with maximizing profits."

Within these discussions, most energy system models not only calculate costs from a purely capitalistic framework, these models only consider what can be imported. They ignore human power energy systems and human empowerment issues. For example, importing technology may or may not be able to be repaired locally. When people use the equipment in ways in which it was not meant to be used (running a diesel generator in a hot room with no cooling system for two weeks straight because otherwise children will die without the medical equipment they need - oxygen concentrators), then the system breaks down quicker than modeled: ending in a worse-off system. Consequently, even understanding the qualitative terms for the social benefits of the five electrical energy devices is valuable. Future energy system models must take into account both (1) the capitalistic-based energy model issues and (2) the social benefits of a corporate responsible business paradigm.

The debate in the United States and Ugadan political system has been capitalism versus socialism. The real fundamental issue is how we as a society choose to fund institutions which provide services that are for the welfare of society: justice (police and military), crisis mediation (fires and disaster relief), education, health, etc. Economists describe this in terms of maximizing a society’s utility function. A utility function is a mathematical way to model how people attain their meaning in life using monetary means. The tension is that almost everyone knows that money is not all there is to meaning in life. So, parts of life are economic and other parts are so-called values, faith, community and family. However, the current economic structure over time has led to an approximate value of a statistical life (VSL) around $150,000 USD in Uganda (PPP $) and to an approximate value of a statistical life around $6,000,000 USD in the United States (PPP$) [2]. By considering only the capital costs of an electrical energy system means that few in Uganda have the ability-to-pay (actually this result in the United States is similar) including the government. Moreover, in the United States, the traditional infrastructure (mainly non-renewable electrical energy utility systems and connections) was within the government and people’s willingness-to-pay and ability-to-pay, but not currently for the new renewable energy infrastructure. So, the question becomes, how are the funds allocated from the global economy to fund these social benefits of renewable energy systems given that the capital costs of these systems are above the willingness-to-pay for these systems? We are developing this structure in all our installed devices.

1. The Christian Science Monitor, How social business can create a world without poverty. Available at: [Accessed 9 May 2009].
2. Miller, Ted R. (2000). "Variations between Countries in Values of Statistical Life," Journal of Transport Economics and Policies, 34(May): 169-88.


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