A cleaner energy future depends, in large part, on responsible energy consumption in the developing world. Founded by Nobel Peace Prize-winner Muhammad Yunus, the Grameen Shakti organization in Bangladesh distributes small solar systems and portable bio-gas systems to rural Bangladeshis, empowering women and the poor in the process.

Energy for a Developing World
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Energy for a Developing World
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Energy for a Developing World
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In 2006, Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank, the innovative micro-credit bank he founded, jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts toward reducing poverty in Bangladesh. A former economics professor and Fullbright Scholar, Yunus developed Grameen 30 years ago to fund underrepresented borrowers, mainly women, and help boost rural businesses. He's received many other international awards and accolades and, in 2007, joined The Global Elders, an alliance of major world leaders forged by Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter and Kofi Anan to take on major global issues.


Involved with Grameen Bank since its inception, Dipal Chandra Barua is a leading social economist with expertise in the field of poverty alleviation. Currently Grameen Bank's deputy managing director, he is managing director of Grameen Shakti (translation: "rural energy"), a subsidiary he helped develop that brings solar power-energy to Bangladesh's electricity-deprived communities. His financial model for rural renewable energy has been recognized and replicated by the World Bank.


Jeffrey Sachs is director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, a coalition of 800-plus scientists and academics focused on reducing global hunger, disease and environmental degradation. Often called "the most important economist in the world," Sachs is a special advisor to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and was director of the U.N. Millennium Development Project from 2002 to 2006. He has published several books, including the best-seller The End of Poverty, and is a professor of sustainable development and health policy and management at Columbia University.

The Grameen Bank, founded by economist Muhammad Yunus in 1983, is a financial institution that serves the rural communities of Bangladesh. Its goal is to bring people out of poverty by providing loans to start small businesses; affordable renewable power technologies to light homes and cook; and other essential services. The bank's concept began with Yunus' Grameen Bank Project at the University of Chittagong in 1976, which examined the possibility of creating a credit delivery system that targeted the rural poor. Yunus was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for the success of his Grameen family of companies.

Bangladesh is located in South Asia and has a population of 150 million people. It is one of the poorest nations in the world, with nearly half of its population living on $1 per day. Furthermore, only 30 percent of its citizens receive electricity.

As of May 2007, the Grameen Bank has over 7.21 million borrowers, and over 97 percent of them are women. It has 2,431 branches around the country, reaching 78,659 villages with its 23,345 employees. The bank boasts an impressive 99 percent recovery rate in all its loans.

After recognizing the need for dependable power supplies to achieve economic development, Grameen Shakti was established in 1996 to provide rural communities with renewable energy technologies such as solar power and biogas.



Grameen Bank provides rural Bangladeshis with financing through micro-loans that require no collateral. They have established an accountability system wherein each borrower is part of a five-member group. The group, although not responsible to guarantee its members' loans, ensures that everyone is on track to repay. The bank, however, does not take its borrowers to court in the event that they default on their loans.

Grameen Bank has self-sustaining funds. It does not need donor money or loans from local or external sources to maintain its lending. It finances all of its outstanding loans from its deposits, which amount to 138 percent of the outstanding loans. The bank has been profitable every year since its establishment except for three: 1983, 1991 and 1992. In those three years, natural disasters affected a large percentage of the country's population.



Grameen Shakti has a solar photovoltaic (PV) program. It sells Solar Home Systems (SHSs) to rural communities that will have no access to conventional electricity within the next five to ten years. The units are self-sufficient and particularly suitable for remote, inaccessible areas. The company has numerous financing packages - modeled on the Grameen Bank micro-loans - aimed at making units affordable to rural families.

Grameen Shakti also has a biogas program. The technology uses rural wastes, such as poultry litter and cow dung, and transforms them into biogas or slurry. It provides users with non-polluting energy for cooking while, at the same time, helps keep the environment free of disease-causing wastes. The company plays the role of a facilitator instead of a provider, unlike its solar program. Grameen Shakti does not help pay for the units; it only helps customers gain access to soft loans. Soft loans are loans with below-market interest rates.


NARRATOR [MORGAN FREEMAN]: Was it a conscious decision, or a momentary lapse of reason? How did progress take priority over humankind? Could harnessing the world's energy that allowed our ascent now be the lynchpin of our downfall? Could it be we are connected to all living things in the universe, not the center of it? That decisions in Washington affect the mountain glaciers of Peru, deforestation in the Amazon affects the heat waves of Paris, that power plants in China affect air quality in Los Angeles. It's about facing what seem to be insurmountable challenges for what they really are: opportunities, to reinvent and redesign. E Squared: The economies of being environmentally conscious.




NARRATOR [MORGAN FREEMAN]: Energy: fuel for transportation, industry, and every day life. While economic development and energy resources go hand in hand, its scarcity inspires some to seek the greatest untapped energy source of all: human potential.

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: Each human being is endowed with enormous potentials. But this treasure, this gift that each human being carries, some of them, some of these human beings never get an opportunity to have a peep to find out that the gift exists. And they die without ever discovering who he or she is.

JEFFREY SACHS: Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries in the world. It's made some progress in the last couple of decades, so it got off the very bottom of the bottom. It was once called the basket case and certainly has proved that it isn't that, but still people are struggling to meet their basic needs. They don't have a light switch to turn on a light, they don't have running water, they don't have reliable access to health care, even when they're desperately sick. Poverty is a breeding ground of chaos of all sorts. It's a breeding ground of disease. It's a breeding ground of desperation. If that hope is cut off, if the desperation sinks in, this becomes a war of all against all, but if you help, instead, with basic livelihoods, with hope, with the future, with survival of children, with the education of children, that can really get to the crux of the matter.

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: Poverty is lack of opportunity to explore oneself. It is not created by the poor people. It's created by the institutions that we build, policies that we pursue, concepts that we have promoted, and the seed of poverty is in those things. If we want to remove poverty, all we have to do is go back to those institutions, policies, find the seeds of poverty that are planted in them and pick them out. Poverty will be gone. Because poverty is an artificial state of human being. It's not nature of the human being. Nature of human being is a very creative, energetic, contributing person.

NARRATOR [MORGAN FREEMAN]: In 1976, Muhammad Yunus loaned $27 dollars to 42 women to start their own small businesses. This lead to other programs for the poor, opening the world's eyes to the genius of micro loans. Thirty years later, his Grameen Bank boasts over 7 million borrowers and a 99% loan repayment rate.

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: I was teaching in University in Chittagong in Bangladesh, and the whole country was going through a famine, and then I noticed this money lending business that goes on and how harsh the conditionalities they impose on the borrowers, I said I'll sign any paper you give me. But you give the money. I take the risk. And it worked. It's not rocket science. You package it in a simple way so that they feel comfortable paying you back, and they earn money by using your money and step by step they move forward. And I said oh my God if it works, why aren't you doing it in a big way? Lets create a bank. So this is what the micro credit does and we are very happy that it brought out so many people out of poverty.

DIPAL CHANDRA BARUA [SUBTITLE]: Every month we are opening 40, 50, 60 branches and every month we are dispersing 60 to 70 million US dollars per month. And we are self-sufficient, we don't take money from the outside, we employ 23,000. And recently 2006 Grameen Bank and professor Yunus the founder of the bank, got the Nobel Peace Prize.

NARRATOR [MORGAN FREEMAN]: Profesor Yunus recognized as did the The Nobel Prize community recognized, as did Professor Yunus, that to eliminate poverty, Bangladesh had to address the most basic of human needs, like energy.

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: Bangladesh is going through energy crisis because electricity shortage in the whole country. You may 70% of the people don't have access to electricity, but this is only on part of the story. What happens to those thirty percent who are getting it? They're getting it, unreliable electricity. It goes off every other day. It goes off for hours. So you cannot depend on it, but we are trying to build up the information age in society without electricity. It's impossible.

JEFFREY SACHS: Technology is the key to climbing up the rungs of the ladder of development and one of the most fundamental parts of technology is energy. Without modern energy, there is no modern economy. It's a simple as that. When you don't have it, you're bound to be living at the most basic level in subsistence. So the basics of an energy supply combined with other things that one needs, the technology to grow enough food, children in school, proper health care, roads and ports to connect an economy to the world markets - these are all part of economic development, but energy is an absolute sine qua non. It goes step-by-step with those rungs of economic development.

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: As we went on with our work at Grameen Bank we see opportunities coming and we wanted to capture it. Since there is no electricity we thought why not solar power. Everybody said no its too expensive nobody will buy that. So we came up with a financial package. Which is very convenient for them. You pay monthly over a period of time. So we created a company a solar power company which is Grameen Shakti.

NARRATOR [MORGAN FREEMAN]: In 1996, Grameen, which means "rural", and Shakti, among many things, means "energy, or a force of power flowing through", took on the arduous task of convincing the remote Bangladeshis that renewable energy was not only affordable, but better for their health.

MOHAMMED SAJAL [SUBTITLE]: I'm Mohammed Mehedi Hasan Sajal, unit manager, Grameen Shakti, Mawna unit. I have been unit manager here for a year and a half. I am an engineer so I'm also getting some opportunity to work for the betterment of destitute who are deprived of fuel and electricity, and I'm very happy to be doing this. Ultimately this solar panel owner heard about the system from Grameen Shakti's marketing and became interested and then contacted us. We told her about the 20 watt system. With that 20 watt system you can use 1 CFL and 3 LED light bulbs. After she got to know this she made a down payment and the rest will be made in installments over the next three years. Then she will own the system.

DIPAL CHANDRA BARUA [SUBTITLE]: There are a lot of houses that have never seen electricity in there life. Never seen any light. They only grew up on the kerosene lamp. This has smoke and a very little light and kerosene is kind of a bad smell also. It's polluting the environment and polluting the health, also. Now, I'm telling all those people at the cost of kerosene, you can buy a solar home system. Kerosene you are burning, it's gone. Only remaining the smoke or ashes. But solar energy you get it every day, again and again. This is called renewable. It's unlimited resources.

MOHAMMED SAJAL [SUBTITLE]: One CFL gives sufficient light for one room. The amount of light that is needed for studying purposes, for increasing productivity at work, for living in hygienic conditions, so that the surroundings are clean. Earlier when they used kerosene lamps the home environment was bad and surroundings were unclean, which was harmful.

WOMAN SPEAKING TO SAJAL [SUBTITLE]: Earlier with the kerosene lamps the home was dirty and polluted. The home environment has become better now. Before there was less light. There is no darkness and the children can study better now that there is always light.

DIPAL CHANDRA BARUA [SUBTITLE]: Initially to sell one solar home system we have to visit 10 times, 15 times a customer to motivate him. "Please take this system, its good." And everybody said "No, it's expensive," and all these things. Many people now are giving a phone call, "I'd like to get this panel." So now huge demand is growing.

MOHAMMED SAJAL [SUBTITLE]: So far 711 solar systems have already been set up in this Mawna, and my target is to set up another 1,000 solar panels in the next year. Only 3,000 families have electricity here, and still 7,000 families don't have access to electricity.

NARRATOR [MORGAN FREEMAN]: With Grameen's understanding of working with women, it's no coincidence that Shakti also means the divine mother, or female energy. Bangladesh's paternalistic culture, which has historically isolated women's role to the home, is now seeing a change. For the better.

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: Grameen Shakti by bringing solar panels by itself transforms the family. And for women, home management is the women's business, and to have a light in the home, and the children enjoying the light for studying and so on, she immensely benefits from her own work.

JEFFREY SACHS: You look at what women are doing. They are often spending six or seven hours a day literally for the family to survive walking to and from the water hole, carrying huge loads of water or fuel wood on their heads. Now when you start going up the ladder of development, light bulbs in the home for illumination, so the children can study, having running water in the community, or at least a pump, someplace close by. That's liberating for a woman. And Grameen figured out a long time ago, that the women are absolutely essential to managing households, and helping to take those steps out of poverty.

NARRATOR [MORGAN FREEMAN]: So could it be that developing energy resources for economic gains also provide gains in human rights? Women, previously never considered worthy of loans, were now seen by Grameen as equal to men if not more essential to economic growth.

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: Not even 1% of the borrowers of conventional banks happen to be women. It is history is speaking to her because she is given to believe she is nobody, she has no capacity. So you have to peel off the crust of the thing and then the natural person will come up and then say let me try.

DIPAL CHANDRA BARUA [SUBTITLE]: In case of any crisis or any poverty or any hunger, a woman has to face. Sometimes men leave the family and go elsewhere for higher income. He marries another women there. But women, mother continue until the death of her children. And once they have income, first they buy clothes for their children. And second they buy books for their children and then they buy loongi for their husband. Loongi is a dress for the husband. They say, "If my husband looks smart it is also good to me." So there is more love. There is more peaceful attraction to each other. So that brings social balance. Now we started Grameen Technology Center. 100 percent women. Poverty and women is always in our mind-how women can be part of the whole energy issue at Grameen Shakti.

TEACHER [SUBTITLE]: What do we have to do with this board?


TEACHER [SUBTITLE]: If there is dirt on it, then what will happen?

STUDENTS [SUBTITLE]: The light will be less.

TEACHER [SUBTITLE]: If one box is closed then we will have less light. So what are we to do? We have to clean it. And what angle do we have to keep it at? A 23 degree angle.

NAHID KAWSAR [SUBTITLE]: I graduated from DUET (Dhaka University of Engineering and Technology) in electrical engineering and electronics. Many women get their engineering degree but later switch to office jobs. But I thought that I should put my degree to use in a relevant field, to be able to apply my knowledge in my job. So I applied for various jobs and Grameen Shakti contacted me and told me that my work would be to offer technical support and teaching to women living in remote areas.

DIPAL CHANDRA BARUA [SUBTITLE]: Many houses that we are visiting, if men go in the afternoon the husband is not there. Young men go, "I'd like to check it, fix it." Women say, "Please wait. Let my husband come." So if you send women technicians, it's much more easy. They can talk. So we are now producing women technicians and engineers.

NAHID KAWSAR [SUBTITLE]: Our goal is to create a revolution in the country that ordinary women, too, can work in a technical field. I don't expect each and every women to get involved with Grameen Shakti, but women do realize now that they can do anything.

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: Our initial goal was to reach a level to sell 100 units per month. We thought this is such a big number. It think it took a couple of years or more to reach that number. We were so excited. Today we sell 3000-plus units of solar system every month, and it's growing. And then we came up with other things like biogas. With the same Grameen Shakti, Grameen energy company. Because Bangladesh villages and families have cows and the cow dung can be converted into biogas. And the slurry can become organic fertilizer for them.

NARRATOR [MORGAN FREEMAN]: Now, rural Bangladeshis were able to capture a waste products' natural decomposition, providing a clean and renewable energy source, and another step towards self-sufficiency.

FAZLEY RABBI: Though we started the biogas with the cow dung, but afterwards we found that a mixture of poultry litter and cow dung gives us plenty of biogas. And in this poultry farm owner, she got 1,000 chickens and with the help of Grameen Shakti we have constructed the biogas plant here and she is not only getting biogas for cooking three times a day at her home but she has extended the line to other four neighbors and one tea stall as well. So she is getting around 2,500 Taka extra by supplying biogas through this biogas plant.

MOHAMMED DELAWAR HOSSAIN: When we design a plant, we consider the amount of raw materials available and the number of family members, and how much time the stove is in use. For example, a 1.2 meter-cubed plant large enough for a family of five to six members. If the family is larger, say, eight to 10 members then a 1.4 meter-cubed plant is needed. So in this way we design the size of the plant.

WOMAN IN HOME [SUBTITLE]: I have rented a total of six cookers. One of them is commercial. From the commercial I get 700 taka. I get 2100 taka for renting the burners. The gas cooker has benefited me in many ways, I am earning money and it doesn't blacken my pots and pans. It saves a lot of time as I don't have to clean blackened pots and pans.

FAZLEY RABBI: We are at Mawna Bazar. And here is a tea stall and this shopkeeper's name is Mister Ripon. The biogas plant that we visited this morning it has extended different lines to the different houses and one biogas line has extended up to his shop and he is having a stove with the biogas. He is selling 200 to 300 cups of tea per day earlier he had a stove that was a kerosene stove and that was very expensive. He was spending about 3,000 Taka a month. Now with this single burner stove, biogas stove he is spending only 700 Taka. So it has reduced his cost at the same time it has extended his business because without interruption he is using this gas stove from 8 am to night at 10pm. The gas quality is good because it has no smoke and the tea is fine. The one biogas plant can benefit a lot of people. Like the family who has constructed the biogas plant, they are getting benefit of this and you see it clears employment opportunities. And if we can introduce or if we can construct more biogas plants, I think it will have a very important impact in the economy and in the life of the people.

DIPAL BARUA [SUBTITLE]: Within six months the cost of the improved cooker stove is recovered from the saving firewood. The rest of its life 15 years, 20 years, or 25 years you can use the improved cooker stove. So you can save the environment, you can save trees, you can save firewood, you can save money. After 10 years, 20 years you can build a new house, you can use this money if your daughter marries, you can use this money for educating your children, just one improved cooker stove, only 4 or 5 dollars investment. At the same time you are creating resources and also employment for the rural people. And that employment is quality employment. You are not only working something for yourself but you are saving the environment, you are saving money, you are saving the future.

JEFFREY SACHS: When you have subsistent economy without basic productivity you have strangely enough environmental degradation as well locally. Because you're so poor, you're living off of the local environment and as population pressures have risen, that has forced communities to, you could say, mine their environment. More energy therefore can enable a community to not only break free of extreme poverty but also break free of an environmental downward spiral.

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: For us, environmental issue is a very vital issue, because Bangladesh is one of those countries which will be hit by global warming and if the sea level rises we are the one which is going under. It's a heavily concentrated population of 145 million and growing. If any part of this country goes in, you can imagine what will happen to the population. And it's the poor people who get hurt right away. So we are very concerned about the environmental issues and Grameen Shakti kind of symbolizes our concerns for that and showing a way that it doesn't have to be the other way that you concentrate on the non-renewable energy.

NARRATOR [MORGAN FREEMAN]: For 30 years, Grameen has been dedicated to the elimination of poverty in Bangladesh. But with 70% of the population still without power, what does the future hold? Can inspiration be enough?

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: Grameen Shakti has a lot of distance to go. Today it serves roughly about a million people with their services of solar energy, biogas, and everything else. But there are millions more, Bangladesh has 145 million people. So we can expand this whole thing and become an example of how biofuel, how solar energy, how solar biogas can become a very important component of the society rather than just a showcase in one village.

JEFFREY SACHS: Grameen has had a huge effect in all of its operations, from microfinance to women's groups, Grameen has played a huge role in Bangladesh's progress from independence and desperation to the climb up the ladder of development. Now, Grameen's efforts on helping the poor to have energy services is certainly a part of this success story. It can't solve all of the problems, but it does really help the development process. There isn't any single initiative where you say Euraka, its over we solved the problem. That is true of Grameen Shakti as well. However meritorious it is just a piece of the puzzle.

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: If we had believed, each one of us in this planet that we should be free from poverty everywhere. Not a single human being should be in poverty. If we believe in that, we would have created that. We create what we believe in. We create what we imagine. If we do not imagine, we do not create. We have to imagine that we can create a poverty-free world and that world will happen.



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Energy for a Developing World

Episode Trailer 0:30 min

Energy for a Developing World

Episode Excerpt 3:00 min