Updates from IBD Philippines – Team We Care Solar

IBD Spring 2015 team We Care Solar (Sherry Chen, Sarah Tomec, My-Thuan Tran, Dorothy Yang) traveled to the Philippines for their IBD project.

It wasn’t until our team landed in the Philippines that we grasped the extent of the country’s devastating natural disasters. We arrived just a year and a half after Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest cyclones ever recorded. It killed more than 6,000 people and ravaged thousands of communities.

Much of the country had recovered. But among emergency response organizations, there was a sense of urgency. How could they better prepare for the next inevitable disaster? In the Philippines, it is not a question of if the next disaster will strike, but when. The Philippines is the second most disaster-prone country in the world, and Filipinos endure frequent typhoons, earthquakes, floods and tsunamis.

Ruins from the 2013 major earthquake in the Bohol Province.

Ruins from the 2013 major earthquake in the Bohol Province.

One of the biggest challenges in Haiyan relief efforts was access to reliable power. The typhoon severed electricity lines, and some areas did not have consistent access to power for months. Without power, emergency responders struggled to reach more isolated and remote areas with critical help. Search and rescue responders were unable to charge their communications devices to call for additional resources. Without a consistent light source, medical personnel had difficulty providing life-saving procedures at night for victims and women delivering babies.

That is where our IBD team came in. We worked on developing a market entry strategy for Solar Suitcases to be used in emergency disaster response in the Philippines. These Solar Suitcases use solar power to charge lights and other crucial devices. Developed by Berkeley-based WE CARE Solar, the suitcases are primarily used to light maternity clinics in rural areas. But following the 2010 Haiti earthquake, WE CARE saw a tremendous need for the Solar Suitcase in emergency response.

The IBD team with potential emergency response partners after the qualification meeting.

The IBD team with potential emergency response partners after the qualification meeting.

The Philippines was an ideal country to pilot entry of the technology into the emergency disaster sector. WE CARE partnered with Stiftung Solarenergie Foundation Philippines (StS), a social enterprise that works to provide solar energy in rural areas who do not have access to clean, reliable and sustainable energy.

The key question became how emergency responders could gain access to these Solar Suitcases. While there was a tremendous need for the Solar Suitcase, the equipment is cost-prohibitive for many smaller emergency response organizations. WCS and StS did not want to solely rely on grant after grant from foundations and donors. Our job was to develop a sustainable funding model and operational framework that would allow emergency responders to access the kits.

WECARE Solar and StS training emergency responders on power management with the solar suitcase.

WECARE Solar and StS training emergency responders on power management with the solar suitcase.

Our hypothesis that there was a strong market for these Solar Suitcases among emergency responders, and that they would be willing to pay to gain access to these Solar Suitcases during times of emergency. We developed a model similar to Zip Car: Solar Suitcases would be held in warehouses and emergency responder organizations would pay an annual fee that would allow them to get the Solar Suitcases whenever an emergency struck. They would pay a daily “lease” fee whenever the suitcase was in use.

We quickly realized that this was an innovative model. Through interviews with international organizations such as the United Nations, we recognized that most emergency response relied on major funders and donations that flowed in. The chaotic “all hands on deck” environment after a disaster did not lend itself to a structure in which equipment was returned. A leasing model would be a very new model in emergency response that StS would be pioneering.

We were honored to meet dozens of emergency responders who have dedicated their lives to helping communities in distress. Some came from the private sector, others from volunteer-based organizations, and some from government. These men and women spoke passionately about providing crucial help to devastated communities after disasters, time and time again.

As we introduced the Solar Suitcase to these responders, their eyes lit up. They spoke about how the Solar Suitcase could help them be more equipped during emergency response and how it could ensure life-saving disaster relief could reach remote and isolated areas. They talked about the potential to provide crucial light for their emergency operations and charge up their devices— from radios to cell phones to wireless modems—all critical tools in emergency response.

Taken in Coron, Palawan province, a young boy steers his boat away from the docking area. Our team was struck by the resilience and passion for life shared with us by the people of the Philippines.

Taken in Coron, Palawan province, a young boy steers his boat away from the docking area. Our team was struck by the resilience and passion for life shared with us by the people of the Philippines.

Our time on the ground showed us the resiliency of the Filipino people. We are excited to see this model come to life and to see the impact of the Solar Suitcase in emergency response. We hope it will empower first responders and help revolutionize access to power for disaster relief.

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