Bringing Gender into the Energy Access Conversation

In the past year, we’ve had the good fortune of working with two incredible organizations dedicated to expanding energy access – Solar Sister and ENERGIA. Solar Sister helps empower women in Tanzania, Uganda and Nigeria to become solar entrepreneurs, selling home solar products to their communities – most of which lack access to the electrical grid. ENERGIA is an advocacy organization, dedicated to ensuring that gender issues stay central to the energy access conversation. We like to talk about our work at every chance we get and lately we’ve been getting one question a lot – why women and energy?

Access to energy is a key building block for reducing poverty, improving health outcomes, increasing security and eliminating discrimination. Access to a solar light can mean a craftsman can create their goods long after the sun goes down without risk of fire, exposure to toxins and the high price of burning kerosene gas. Access to a portable solar lamp can mean a midwife in rural Africa can deliver a baby during the nighttime while actually seeing what she’s doing – reducing the risk of errors and allowing her to correctly diagnose any problems along the way. A cleaner cooking stove can mean that women no longer run the risk of poisoning their children with the fumes of burning animal waste when they make meals. The savings from all of the above can help bolster a family, provide a source of savings (from not buying kerosene and charcoal many times a week) and allow them to save for school fees or unforeseen financial difficulties.

A visit to the Solar Sister Entrepreneurs in northern Uganda in 2014.
A visit to the Solar Sister Entrepreneurs in northern Uganda in 2014.

One in five people around the world doesn’t have access to electricity. Three billion people lack access to sustainable energy and still use wood, coal, charcoal or animal waste for cooking and heating. Energy is a building block on which sustainable development can grow.

In the developing world, women are often the main users of energy. They cook, they manage household finances, they pay for children’s school fees and supervise their studies at night. They ration bottles of kerosene and ensure the family isn’t burning too much money away with each lantern lit. With women as the main energy users, it only makes sense to integrate them into the energy conversation. It makes sense to have them help create solutions and explain those solutions to the other energy users in their communities. This is important because it helps speed the adoption of new technologies and ensures that women don’t get left behind as energy access expands.

Sustainable development means that all parts of a community rise together on a tide. Not including energy access into the development conversation is a nonstarter – you won’t get anywhere without access to energy. Not integrating women into that energy access conversation has a different result. It allows communities to move ahead while leaving women behind, tied to solutions which don’t work for their lives.

A visit to the Solar Sister Entrepreneurs in northern Tanzania in 2015 for the WE:Shine Campaign.
A visit to the Solar Sister Entrepreneurs in northern Tanzania in 2015 for the WE:Shine Campaign.

Bringing gender into the energy conversation and empowering women to become energy practitioners, advocates and entrepreneurs ensures they make it onto the boat so we can all rise on the tide together.

To learn more about Solar Sister click here. To learn more about ENERGIA click here. For more information about energy access and development, visit the SE4ALL website.

Partnering With the Sun in Tanzania: A Solar Sister Video Project

We’ve been on the road with Solar Sister in Tanzania for the past week and a half documenting the lives of some very special female solar entrepreneurs. We’re excited about the fruits of our travels, a series of videos about these incredible women and their efforts to make their communities brighter, stronger and more prosperous.

We’ll be releasing the resulting videos starting in the fall — six pieces in all. With a little help from the online community, we’re hoping their stories will help to educate people around the world about how renewable energy can bring impacts beyond light to communities in the developing world.

Follow us on Instagram and Twitter (both @showthegood) to see our travels in real time and stay tuned here for the eventual release of the series. We’re excited to share these beautiful stories with you!

More about Solar Sister

watch the video we created for Solar Sister in 2014 for the 10th annual Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting

Photographing Hillary for America in New York City

Sometimes you get a call for an event that you just can’t turn down. Earlier this month, Barbara Kinney called to ask me to help photograph the official Hillary Clinton presidential campaign launch rally on Roosevelt Island in New York City. I said yes, of course, where shall I meet you?

The day ended up being absolutely lovely and the event was full of excitement. I’m so glad to share with you my official photos from that day, now up on the Hillary for America Flickr page.

June 13, 2015 - Roosevelt Island, New York City
June 13, 2015 – Roosevelt Island, New York City

See a selection of the photos here.

The New Frontier of Education: NC3

The education system in the United States is at a critical juncture. With some parts of the college-educated workforce unfit for the jobs they are hoping to fill and some industries lacking the number of candidates they need, people across the country are studying how to fix the myriad of issues the system faces. Not the least of which is the crushing student loan debt that many graduates are forced to bear.

Amidst all of the tumult there are a few pioneering organizations who have already solved some of these issues. One of those organizations is the National Coalition of Certification Centers, or NC3. We were asked to join them back in January to help tell the story of their industry-certified, stackable certificate model for community colleges across the country.

The NC3 Train the Trainer 13 event was held at West-MEC in Phoenix Arizona in January 2015.
The NC3 Train the Trainer 13 event was held at West-MEC in Phoenix Arizona in January 2015.

NC3 has set up a model where companies in the aviation, transportation, energy and horticulture sectors can partner with community college faculty members to create certification courses specific to jobs in their industries. These courses cover science behind Torque, high precision wheel servicing, advanced automotive diagnostic tools, HVAC installation and repair and more. Once the courses are locked down, NC3 trains community college instructors from across the country to administer these courses to their students. The instructors are then able to certify their students free of charge in these “stackable” certificates. Students can be certified in multiple tasks and then take those certificates potential employers as proof that they are capable of doing the job that they are applying for.

The NC3 Train-the-Trainer event is at the heart of this model. The teachers become the students. They learn, they explore and they study, knowing they’ll return to their classrooms to help their students onto a path to better employment. Watch the video above to see the power behind NC3’s efficient and thoughtful model.

Learn more about NC3 here.

Social Media Week – Storytelling Workshop

I was super excited when Matt Bishop of iGiveMore invited me to speak at his Social Media Week workshop this past Tuesday. The session was called “How to Tell Stories that Drive Action” and the discussion topic was obviously right up my alley.

I was tasked with telling the audience gathered (who worked in nonprofit and for profit organizations) about the process of making videos – in 10 minutes or less. It was a great way to hone our overall ideas. I had to simplify the larger, more complex workshops we normally do into a shorter amount of time. It’s almost like distilling a lengthy pitch into a simple powerpoint deck. What is the most essential information?

We started with the example of one of our all time favorite commercials and moved through a series of simplified steps one should think about during the video production process. Then we ended with the list of questions everyone should ask themselves when they are making a video:

  • Does this video help us reach our goals?
  • Is anything distracting?
  • Does it make sense? (Believe us, this might be intuitive, but it isn’t)
  • If I didn’t work here, would I want to watch this?
  • Does it make the viewer feel what I want them to feel?

My little chat was received well (lots of note taking was observed) and in the process we met some really incredible people who live and work in New York.

Excited for our next speaking opportunity. Like always, this one was a blast.

Five Rules for Taking iPhone & Android Photos

High quality photography can mean the difference between a mediocre website and a phenomenal one, the difference between a boring presentation and an engaging one. A great photograph, taken by a professional is worth much more than 1,000 words. It can be the difference between a small and large donation. It can be the reason someone agrees to join your board. It can mean catching the eye of that next big partner you’ve been hoping to land or the reason someone invests in your product.

That said, the ubiquity of cell phone cameras can’t be ignored. Most of us carry these magical devices on our person every day, all the time. Yet, so many nonprofits and small businesses don’t use them enough. So, in the hope of getting more people to whip out those iPhones and Androids when the moment strikes, here are five rules for taking cell phone photos.

Barefoot College - 2013 CGI Annual Meeting Opening Video Shoot
Barefoot College – 2013 CGI Annual Meeting Opening Video Shoot

Rule Number One: Download a Photo Editing App and Use it

Great photography starts in the lens of the camera, but is bolstered by the work of a great editor. Learn to do some basics yourself and download a photo editing app for your iPhoneor Android device. Bumping the contrast, reducing brightness and increasing the color saturation are three basic things everyone can do to make photos more vibrant.

Rule Number Two: Take Your Time

As photography enthusiasts, one of our biggest frustrations is the speed and carelessness with which people take photos. In New York, this plays out at our city landmarks all the time. Someone whips out their phone while walking through Washington Square Park and doesn’t even stop moving while they take a photo of the arch and the Empire State Building. Professional photographers stop, look and frame. So you should too. Take five seconds to focus on what your picture is going to look like, then take a deep breath and look again. Only then should you snap your photo. It will make all of your pictures 10 times better.

Rule Number Three: Fill the Frame

This is one of our mantras at Show the Good. It means that you shouldn’t have any unnecessary space or objects in the frame of your photograph (or video, for that matter). Figure out what the subject of your photo is and make sure that you’ve eliminated anything in the frame that distracts from it. This could be empty space that doesn’t serve a purpose (sometimes space is good, like in the photo above where it gives us a sense of place). It could also be a distracting yellow cone, trash can or another person you don’t want people to see. Look at your framing before you snap, ask yourself if the focus is on your subject and use your judgement to eliminate any extraneous things.

Rule Number Four: Remember the Rule of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds is a basic principle in teaching art and it is very helpful. It comes from the Golden Principle which says that the best practice for making a pleasing photograph (or painting) is to align your main objects along an imaginary grid of nine equal boxes (take a look at this wikipedia page for an illustration). You don’t always have to follow this rule, but it is good to keep in mind when framing a photograph. Imagine three lines drawn vertically and horizontally on your screen and line your subjects up with those. Most of the time, it will result in a more interesting picture.

Rule Number Five: Make Everyone a Photographer and Collect the Pictures

Empower your staff, volunteers and supporters to use their phones to take photos and make it easy for them to send those pictures to you. To do this, you need to tell them directly and enthusiastically that you want their help. Tell people to snap photos at events when they see something great. Ask your customers to take photos while using your product and post them on social media with a designated hashtag. Set up a Gmail address or Google Drive folder where people can send photos directly to you without too much hassle. Then collect the photos, organize them and keep them to add to emails, blog posts and social media. Better yet, rename the photos when you organize them so that you know who took them. When you post the pictures, give credit to the photographer. The recognition will make that person feel great and they’ll be more likely to continue to contribute in the future.

The 2013 IDF Young Leaders in Diabetes Congress was held in Melbourne, Australia.
The 2013 IDF Young Leaders in Diabetes Congress was held in Melbourne, Australia.

Your phone is not a replacement for a professional photographer. So, make sure first and foremost that you have some great, high quality images to use in your marketing material. That said, smart phone photos can enrich your newsletters, blog posts and social media chatter and increase the positive response to your work. Facebook posts with photos get 39% more interaction than those without. Tweets with photos are retweeted 35% more than those without. Follow these rules, empower your community to help you and you can garner more engagement from your constituents online.