There are a lot of organizations working to change the world for the better through their ambitious missions, some on the large scale and some on the small scale, with a wide variety of approaches and structures ranging from private sector businesses to nonprofit charities, so it's probably fair to say that it must be incredibly hard for the 2016 Zayed Future Energy Prize jury to choose the best of the best from the finalists in each category. Each of the finalists has a unique angle on, and an innovative solution for, our sustainable energy future, and as this finalist demonstrates, it doesn't necessarily take new technology or a huge leap in innovation to make a very real difference in the lives of millions.
Kopernik, a finalist in the 2016 Zayed Future Energy Prize nonprofit/NGO category, has been working to bring simple and effective technology, such as solar tech, clean-burning cookstoves, water filters, and other products, to the 'last mile,' where these devices can have a huge impact on resident's lives. And it does so in a unique manner, with a combination of crowdfunding and micro-business opportunities that have changed more than 300,000 people's lives in 24 countries around the world.
The organization's founders, Toshi Nakamura and Ewa Wojkowska, left a decade of service with the United Nations to launch the venture in 2010, in part because they saw that affordable technologies that can change lives for the better already existed, but that they weren’t reaching the last mile, and they saw that they could bridge that gap. As of now, Kopernik works with a number of different products ("technologies") that can improve the lives of those living in poverty in a variety of different ways, from producing clean off-grid electricity and lighting to being able to cook meals without being exposed to smoky fires or relying on costly fuel.
"Simple, innovative technology is life-changing for last mile communities. Clean, fuel-efficient cookstoves lead to a reduction of indoor air pollution and deforestation; solar lights replace the need for dirty and dangerous kerosene. Technology also creates a positive economic impact - for example, saving on fuel expenses or creating opportunities to earn more income."
The organization lists these technologies on its website, where last mile communities can discover them (or alternatively, through Kopernik's catalog or technology fairs), and then submit proposals for the items they need most. Kopernik then does due diligence on the proposals, and publishes approved projects on its website, where it can attract funding. Donors contribute to the upfront cost of getting the items to the community, which will receive them once they are fully funded. Community members can then either purchase the items outright or in installments, through one of Kopernik's local partners, which then repays a percentage of the money from the sales back to the organization, where it is again invested in more technology.
"We balance a philanthropic and business approach to distributing technology. Our donors fund the upfront costs of introducing technologies and creating micro-business opportunities in remote communities. The money raised from product sales is reinvested in more technology for the last mile."
According to Kopernik's Impact page, the organization has served some 309,000 people through distributing more than 66,600 technologies across 154 projects, and has ample evidence of the positive impact that their work has had on the lives of the people it touches.