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Meet the New Heroes
Fabio Rosa

Photo: Actual Films

Fabio Rosa

Project: Agroelectric System of Appropriate Technology (STA) and Institute for Development of Natural Energy and Sustainability (IDEAAS)

Location: Brazil

Fabio Rosa is a charismatic, charming Gaucho -- a guitar-playing cowboy with the energy and vision of a corporate titan who is determined to bring electricity and new farming opportunities to millions of rural Brazilians, allowing them to enjoy sustainable livelihoods while preserving the environment for future generations.

Rosa first came to the Brazilian state of Rio Grande Do Sol in the early 1980s, when much of the rural population lived without electricity because they could not afford the installation costs. He saw that by using a single wire system instead of the ususal three wire he could bring affordable electricity to most the people in the region and create a model for bringing it to all Brazilians and people of other countries.

Rosa's first effort in the countryside outside the town of Palmeras was wildly successful — bringing hundreds of families electric powered pumps, refrigerators and lights for the first time in their lives. Rosa spread his idea to thousands of families, and eventually to more than half a million Brazilians. But in the late 1990s, the electricity industry in Brazil was privatized and the new owners weren't interested in pursuing his model because the profit margins in the countryside were too low. So Rosa came up with a new plan to rent solar power equipment to villagers who live in the most remote areas of Brazil.

At times, Rosa has felt like a modern-day Sisyphus, constantly pushing the his boulder uphill only to have it roll down to the bottom, forcing him to take up the challenge again from the beginning. In a number of cases, he has come up with a new idea to serve poor families, poured his life into building that idea, managed to realize his vision successfully at an impressive scale — only to be thwarted from further success by bureaucratic forces beyond his control, often by the very government agencies that have failed to meet the needs that Rosa is addressing. But, after twenty three years, he is not prepared to give up the fight. Perhaps, it is because it gives him so much joy to work they way he does.

He says, "I am trying to build a little part of the world in which I would like to live. And even if my inspiration is romantic, I require material results, a re-colored reality and so my projects are practical, doable work. Creating these projects, implementing them and succeeding, witnessing one's dreams come true, is my version of happiness."

Recently, in one of Rosa's most unexpected victories, the Brazilian government announced it will use his single wire model to bring electricity to millions of Brazilians.

What Do STA and IDEAAS Do?

Fabio Rosa founded both a for-profit corporation -- Agroelectric System of Appropriate Technology (STA) -- and a not-for-profit organization -- the Institute for Development of Natural Energy and Sustainability (IDEAAS).

Through STA and IDEAAS, Rosa has been working to bring electricity and community development to rural Brazil since the early 1980s using a combination of non-profit and business approaches to reach the largest possible number of people, including the very poor. IDEAAS creates and demonstrates models of self-sustainable development for low-income rural populations by focusing on the use of high-efficiency and low-cost technologies in the fields of renewable energy and agricultural science. STA has been one of the leading companies in Brazil spreading the use of solar energy and managed grazing systems.

Rosa first floated the idea of renting solar equipment in a village in southern Brazil called Encruzilhada, a poor area where many of homes are so remote that they have little hope of being connected to the electric "grid" anytime in the foreseeable future. His biggest challenges weren't technical; they were overcoming people's beliefs that solar energy was unreliable and unaffordable, and then developing cost-effective systems to serve many customers who pay only tiny amounts each month for their electricity. Moving forward, Rosa now identifies leaders in each community to who help him convince people their neighbors that renting solar energy will benefit them, and will cost no more than they are already paying for candles, batteries and lamp oil.

At least 600 families in the region have joined his program. It is a slow process, but Rosa sees Encruzilhada as an essential first step toward his ultimate goal of demonstrating how to reach the 2 billion people worldwide who still live without electricity.

His mantra: "First Encruzilhada, then Brazil, then the world. But first Encruzilhada."