Founder's Notes 2015: The Solar Community

Greetings friends of Fénix,

2015 marks ten years since Group Fénix made a fairly radical decision.  In 2005, the heart of Grupo Fénix was in the office of the Program of Alternative Energy Sources (PFAE) in the National Engineering University (UNI) in Managua.  That year, the staff of PFAE decided to focus on developing a model sustainable community that would be empowered (literally and socially) through gaining knowledge of Renewable Energy.  The community was Sabana Grande, Totogalpa, chosen because it had been the most proactive of all the communities in which we had worked.

This year, 2015, Sabana Grande achieved independence from the UNI, graduating from being a project to becoming a peer, and now calling itself ¨The Solar Community.¨   Are we now a model community?  I don´t know who has the best definition of a Model Community, but you, friend and reader, can measure our progress as you digest the articles written primarily by the members of this community and we would be more than interested in your feedback.

International statistics reveal that Totogalpa suffers some of the worst social, economic and ecological problems in all of the Americas.  In its third year of severe drought, Totogalpa´s citizens are living with the reality of climate change.  But we have organized to discover, learn, innovate and carry out practices that address previous social, economic and ecological imbalances . . . and have experienced tangible improvements.    We know we are far from finished working, far from perfect.  We are only beginning this work, but we are aware that we are growing and becoming ever more effective change agents.  Proactive agents with big hopes, big plans and LOTS of room to include people from all over the world and all walks of life in our efforts to create an example for others for building a sustainable lifestyle that is genuinely higher quality at all levels.

Accompanying the articles below, I will share with you some of the happenings and accomplishments of this year that are indicators to me that we are on the right path to becoming an inspiring example for others.

  • Over the years, numerous students from universities all over the world have done their thesis work in the Solar Community.  In 2015, three works are of special note.  First: an architecture student from our Alma Mater, the UNI, actively included members from all the groups in the Solar Community in the design of a building for a Renewable Energy Technological Innovation Center.  His thesis won first prize at the ¨Tenth Biannual Latin American Architecture Conference in the technical division" in the city of Arequipa - Peru, competing with projects from all Latin America.
  • Second, a Spanish intern, apprenticing with the United Nations Development Program in Nicaragua, completed her Master´s Thesis on the challenges of sustainable development noting the empowerment of the Solar Women. Her thesis ¨A Critical analysis of the experience of the Multisectoral Cooperative "Solar Women of Totogalpa” - COOMUSOT (Nicaragua) ¨ has generated so much interest that there are plans for it to be published as a book.
  • And finally, A German student doing her doctorate at Leeds University published two articles in journals of ELSEVIER ¨North–South partnerships for sustainable energy: Knowledge–power relations in development assistance for renewable energy ¨ and ¨Renewable energy partnerships in development cooperation: Towards a relational understanding of technical assistance¨ which won the White Rose Award - Best PhD Researcher for her work.
  • In a Nicaraguan Photo Contest for Gender and Energy, the First, Second, and Honorable Mention prizes went to photos of Solar Community Women in action.  The judges noted the sense of empowerment and the role of the women as agents of technology transfer.
  • As you will read in the articles, increasing numbers of university students both nationally and internationally are coming to the Solar Community to do internships and final research projects.
  • Besides our annual visits from international universities with groups of students, 2015 has brought us visits of Nicaraguan university professors with groups of students to construct solar cell phone chargers, and observe the work in renewable technologies at the Solar Center.
  • The Solar Center staff created a highly professional course for independent home PV system installations and offered it free to community members.  The course offered skill-building to international volunteers and developed new human resources within the community.
  • Members of the Earth Building Natural Construction committee shared their skills within the community and doubled the numbers of practitioner within the community as well as delivering their first courses to community groups in Nicaragua.
  • In 2008 PFAE and the Solar Women won the United Nations SEED Initiative Award: Promoting Entrepreneurship for Sustainable Development.  At that point we were one of five winners out of 800 applicants from all over the globe.  Celebrating 10 years of operation in 2015, SEED did an assessment of their previous awardees and chose 10 winners from the 175 total winners over those ten years.  We were included in the top ten, and finished in third place among the ten in the final competition. 

Adelante con el Sol,

Susan Kinne

Founder and President of Grupo Fenix