The WindAid team are currently touring the UK and on Wednesday they arrived at my home town of Sheffield! Nick Warren represented WindAid at SIID Share’s Advocacy Week, which entailed participating in a panel discussion on the UN’s recently launched Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and showcasing NGOs with volunteer opportunities to Sheffield Unviersity students looking to give their time to a good cause.
During the panel discussion, Nick stated that 1/3 Peruvians are still without access to electricity, but that the government has set a target for universal access by 2022. However, creation of goals often leads to a box ticking mentality, e.g. grid extension programmes that cross households off the electrification list, even if there isn’t sufficent generating capacity or if the unit price of electricity is not affordable. What is more, goals often dictate the availability of funding, which can often tempt organisations that are well tuned in to local needs to shift their focus, because other things that the SDGs say are important have money behind them, even if they’re not necessarily the most relevant for that particular context. Nick pointed out that understanding the real needs of individual communities is more important than political rhetoric. However, he did note that the pumping and purification of water was a really important need in the coastal desert communities where WindAid works and was glad to see this feature in SDGs.
I visited WindAid back in 2011 and I was really pleased to hear about the positive changes that the organisation has made over the past 4 years. For example, when I visited in 2011, all of the 7 turbines that WindAid had installed in remote Andean communities were out of order. These were early prototypes, so failures were common, but the big problem was the lack of local capacity to perform repairs. These communities were between 5 and 9 hours from WindAid’s workshop in Trujillo, so even something as simple as repairing a loose connection at the top of the tower required a day of travelling, as the communities themselves were deliberately not allowed to lower the tower.
Now, the emphasis has shifted to building local capacity, so that communities are able to perform all but the most complex repairs themselves. The focus is now on doing fewer, more sustainable projects that involve building longer-term relationships with each community. For example, WindAid now regularly involve community members in their participatory wind turbine construction courses alongside the international volunteers in order to create capable community technicians, who are able to offer local maintenance services to their own communities. They’re even talking about running entire construction courses in communities, which would be a highly effective way of transferring skills to the entire community and really building a sense of ownership for the turbine they are building together. It would also give more time for the cultural exchange that international volunteers come for and would overcome the difficulties of getting community members who may be ideal candidates for the community technician role, but who find it difficult to travel due to family commitments or having animals to look after.
You can catch up with WindAid at one of their other venues around the UK this week or next:
- Weds 18 Nov: Sheffield
- Thurs 19: Edinburgh & Glasgow
- Fri 19: Glasgow
- Sat/Sun 20/21: Scoraig
- Mon/Tues 22/23: Edinburgh
- Weds 24: London
- Thurs 25: Bristol/Exeter
After completing their UK tour, the WindAid team will be heading over to the continent to take part in the UNEP COP21 in Paris.