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Washington — If it is better, as a Chinese proverb instructs, to light one candle than curse the darkness, how much better yet is it to bring electricity generated by clean, microhydroelectric plants to dozens of remote villages across Indonesia?
(Media-Newswire.com) - Washington — If it is better, as a Chinese proverb instructs, to light one candle than curse the darkness, how much better yet is it to bring electricity generated by clean, microhydroelectric plants to dozens of remote villages across Indonesia?
That’s been the life’s work of Indonesian social activist and entrepreneur Tri Mumpuni — who, with her husband, Iskandar B. Kuntoadji, and their nonprofit IBEKA Foundation (Yayasan Institut Bisnis dan Ekonomi Kerakyatan or People’s Business and Economic Institute), has built five dozen small power plants that also serve as engines for economic development.
Rivers turn the turbines in these compact plants, with villagers participating fully in the planning and construction, then maintaining the facilities as cooperative ventures. Most plants generate from 5 kilowatts to 60 kilowatts, but IBEKA has also completed projects as large as half a megawatt. The construction costs range from $10,000 to more than $600,000. Some capital comes from private investors, but IBEKA also has attracted significant support from international development agencies in Japan, the Netherlands and elsewhere. Some large corporations support the work as well.
IBEKA convinced authorities to allow these microplants to connect to the grid and sell excess energy back to the state utility, PLN. Those revenues, in turn, fuel school, road and health improvements in these communities.
As a girl growing up in Semarang, the capital of Central Java, Mumpuni accompanied her social worker mother as she distributed medicine to the poor. The daughter grew up and studied the economics of agriculture (her father is an economist) at Bogor Agricultural University and later journeyed to Thailand, Africa and Latin America to learn about energy, sustainable development and environment as a Rockefeller Foundation fellow.
Mumpuni’s geologist husband learned about microhydro plants in Switzerland. Now, graduate students, government managers and community activists come to the couple’s home in Bandung to learn about microhydro plants and biogas, another clean, low-cost way of producing energy by fermenting biological materials. Fittingly for an environmental activist, Mumpuni also breeds butterflies at the couple’s home, at the foot of a volcanic crater surrounded by a tea plantation. The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific selected IBEKA Foundation’s microhydro methods as a model for public-private partnerships. Mumpuni has been named an Ashoka Fellow, a Climate Hero by the World Wildlife Fund and Woman of the Year by Tempo magazine, the Indonesian weekly.
President Obama also saluted her in his speech at the April 2010 Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship, which brought together more than 200 business innovators, many of them, like Mumpuni, from countries with sizable Muslim populations. Obama briefly bantered with her afterward in Bahasa Indonesia, which he learned during four years of childhood spent in Jakarta with his American mother and Indonesian stepfather.
Mumpuni said she was “over the moon” after the plaudits from the president. The recognition has since triggered numerous news stories and interviews, “and even the president director of [the state utility PLN] came to my office to have a discussion,” said Mumpuni.
The microhydroelectric plants are making a big difference in such places as Waikelosawa in Nusa Tenggara Timur and Cinta Mekar in West Java: IBEKA estimates that these small projects provide electricity for nearly 400,000 people.
But more than 100 million of Indonesia’s 230 million people still live in the dark, as do 1.6 billion people worldwide. “Can you imagine?” said Mumpuni. “It really touches your heart when you come to a village and see the kids very tired at night trying to read their books with a very small light.”
So Mumpuni and IBEKA are thinking bigger. She recently flew to Vienna to nail down a 30 million euro bank loan for a 2 megawatt project and is seeking $98 million in U.S. Agency for International Development support for 32 new projects. “Insya Allah [God willing],” she said, the project will bring electricity to 200,000 people “and create jobs for more than a half million.”
“What I am doing … is impossible for me to do on my own,” she said.
She and her husband were kidnapped in 2008 by former rebels in volatile Aceh province, where IBEKA undertook a microhydro project in the mountains of West Sumatra. She had welcomed the militants to the project and told them they’d be heroes in their community if they used their gun-making skills to build turbines instead.
Nonetheless, they kidnapped Mumpuni and Kuntoadji, then released her in the middle of the night with instructions to go back to the city and return with a 2 million rupee ransom —$220,000 — or her husband would be beheaded. She bargained them downward and frantically raised $60,000 from family and friends to secure his release.
It hasn’t diminished her zeal for working with the poor. “I got in my life so many privileges from God, this is the way to pay back,” said Mumpuni, who will attend a meeting of former President Bill Clinton’s Clinton Global Initiative in New York in September and speak at the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in late October. Afterward, she’ll return to Jakarta to participate in a regional follow-up to the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship.
If she gets another chance to speak with President Obama, Mumpuni will tell him of plans to build a new, model clean energy and jobs project in West Java. She has the name for it already: Obama Village.
(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://www.america.gov)