From the 3rd to the 7th November 2014, the Wind Empowerment association hosted its second global conference on small wind for rural development, WEAthens2014. The event was hosted at the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA) in Greece and brought together actors working in the field of small wind for rural development from 17 different countries in Latin America, Africa, Asia and Europe. The aim of the event was to stimulate international exchange between these actors and foster future collaborations that have the potential to make locally manufactured small wind turbines a more viable technology for sustainable rural electrification.
An action packed program of panel presentations and discussions, small group sessions, laboratory demonstrations, practical workshops, field trips, poster and technology exhibitions and more ensured that there was no shortage of opportunities for sharing lessons learned.
The participants were divided into Working Groups (WGs), designed to address the key barriers facing small wind for rural development. Providing this open space for knowledge exchange and discussion allowed North/South links to be developed with the aim of allowing the resources and expertise of organisations based in the Global North to fuel the development of those in the Global South, as well as facilitating direct South/South connections to share lessons learned and promote future collaboration. Throughout the week, each WG was tasked with developing a group vision and a roadmap of short, medium, and long-term actions that would allow them to achieve this.
A new executive board was appointed and the recently redeveloped digital platform, WindEmpowerment.org, was launched with the aim of providing an inclusive and globally accessible hub for this global community to continue to collaborate regardless of geographical location. Both WindEmpowerment.org and the executive board continues to evolve around the structure of the WGs, as if properly supported, they can be powerful vehicles of change, developing technical improvements, new measurement systems and more effective delivery models for wind-based electrification.
Although slow to start, fundraising for the event was ultimately, much more successful than expected: grant funding from Terre Humane, WISIONS and Green Empowerment, together with a crowd-source funding campaign totalled €42,630. As expected, the majority of the expenditure (€15,520) was on international travel. Together with food, local transport, publicity, hospitality, stationary, crowd source costs and bank fees, the expenditure for the conference totalled €19,163, leaving us in the fortunate position of having a €23,467 surplus.
This was discussed during the open meeting of the executive board that was held during the conference and it was agreed that in order to fully capitalise on the momentum gained during the event itself and ensure that the great ideas for collaboration are turned into reality, it would be wise to invest these funds in the longer-term activities of the network. The following activities were identified, quantified and agreed upon:
- Funding the previously voluntary coordinator role
- Maintaining, hosting and continuing to develop the online platform, WindEmpowerment.org
- General administrative costs (printing, stationary, digital file sharing tools etc.)
- WE2016 Conference
- Creating an operating reserve for emergencies
- Creating a Working Groups project fund
The event was evaluated with input from the participants themselves via feedback forms. Whilst the feedback was generally extremely positive, the following lessons were learned:
- Planning: fundraising for the next conference should begin as soon as possible and the work required to organise an event such as this should not be underestimated, however there are a number of digital tools that can assist this process, which should include the participation of WE members wherever possible.
- Inclusivity: language was a major issue, however the presence of many bi- and tri-lingual people helped significantly, early fundraising and a wider promotion of the travel scholarships should help improve African participation and the introductory presentations and small group sessions were really successful in encouraging all participants to engage with the other participants.
- Technology: the live link, livestreaming and video recordings offered those who could not be present at the event itself the opportunity to participate, but their effectiveness could be improved even further.
- Timetabling: timekeeping was a constant battle throughout the week as too much was packed into the program, which resulted in the valuable social time in the evenings and breaks where lasting personal relationships are built being reduced.
- Decision making: having a facilitator for the meetings where many people were present was extremely helpful, all WGs eventually came to a consensus, however they required sufficient time and space to do and the need for a more open and inclusive decision making process for the association was highlighted.
Wind Empowerment aims to support the development of locally manufactured small wind turbines for sustainable rural electrification by strengthening the capacity of its members through collaboration and knowledge exchange and there is no doubt that WEAthens2014 was a significant step forward in achieving this aim. However, if the momentum gained during the conference is to be fully capitalised upon, there is significant work to be done in order to build and maintain the required social infrastructure (executive board, WindEmpowerment.org, WGs). Fortunately, we are in a strong financial position, meaning that going into 2015, the future of wind-based rural electrification is bright.
This event would not have been possible without the support of our generous sponsors (The WISIONS Initiative, The Wuppertal Institute, Germany; Terre Humaine, France; Green Empowerment, USA; and all those who donated to the crowd-sourcing campaigns), the volunteer organising committee and our kind hosts, Nea Guinea and RurERG, NTUA.