Empowering people – sometimes just an engineering solution isn’t enough!

Working with different cultures is always challenging but most times is also incredibly rewarding!

Ownership – Empowering People

It has been some months now that Melchior Huijts has been working with the NGO Jeunes Volontaires pour l’Environnement (JVE) via EWB NL on a  small power plant in the village of Yikpa, in Togo – you can find a previous blog post here. The population has longed for affordable and reliable electricity and despite everybody agrees this small power plant can solve part of that problem, it is not clear who will maintain the plant once we’re gone.

Sustainability in projects

EWB NL believes on a sustainable approach to projects, in particular, we apply the FIETS criteria:

Projects have to be Financially, Institutionally, Environmentally, Technically and Socially Sustainable.

For this particular project, this means the locals will eventually maintain the solution themselves, which is the only sustainable long-run option and implies local ownership  (that we have supported and incentivized since day 1) and technical knowledge (that we pass on and ensure it stays).

This means a project like this needs full support and commitment from the population that benefits from it. Melchior Huijts found that an engineering solution by itself won’t bring what people need so he also had to use his soft skills to engage people to actively support and contribute to the project they have requested help for.

An engineer also needs soft skills sometimes!

For this Melchior, together with his local colleague and the president of the Development Committee, organized a workshop with three local villages to empower them regarding the plant. Men and women gathered under the protective shadow of the big tree, to talk  about a future where electricity would not only light the dark night, but also cool medicines in the hospital or feed a mill to grind different kinds of vegetables for flour or support new small businesses.

The money currently spent on batteries and gasoline for generators will then be available to maintain the sustainable pico hydro plant. With a more reliable source of electricity, appliances can then be considered.

The event went on with different perspectives and great participation, under the guidance of the Development Committee. People were happy and Melchior foresees more events like this in the near future!