By Mathias Craig -- blueEnergy is fundamentally international in nature. Since the very beginning we have relied on people from around the globe to come together to work towards the common purpose of providing marginalized communities with basic services such as energy. In this way, blueEnergy has served as a conduit, channeling international talent and time to remote communities where there is a shortage of human capacity relative to the daunting challenges faced there.
Over time we started to realize that more than just having a “neat” experience, the international volunteers that came and worked with blueEnergy were being transformed by their experience on the ground. Spending time in others’ shoes was opening up their perspectives and deepening their sense of empathy. Furthermore, by living closer to the resources they consumed, such as water, energy and food, they became more mindful of their consumption.
As we watched our international alumni network grow in size, we noticed that our alumni were getting into top graduate programs, finding employment at leading renewable energy companies and global development agencies, and starting their own nonprofits serving the social sector. They were continuing on after blueEnergy and moving into positions of influence. To the extent that their personal philosophies and new work aligned with blueEnergy’s mission, their impact as alumni opened up a new dimension of blueEnergy’s impact. We realized we were involved in movement building, a fundamental part of any strategy to address the scale of the challenges.
We also recognized that this effect was not limited to our international interns, volunteers and staff; it also extended to our national (Nicaraguan) staff. As the internationals and the nationals worked together as one team to provide marginalized communities with basic services, the broadening of experience and increase in empathy was a two-way street. At the same time that the internationals underwent their transformational experience, the national staff learned new communication technologies, deepened their ability to manage complexity and grew their understanding of global affairs.
The holistic model of community development that blueEnergy employs in the field is geared towards creating opportunities for economic development in severely marginalized communities in alignment with culture and the environment. This is a long-term engagement that seeks to create stability in human society by narrowing the poverty & opportunity gap. We promote the growth of these opportunities in environmentally sustainable ways, such as with the use of renewable energy, so that down the road, when these communities grow in material wealth, they do it in a way that is less harmful to the planet than the current models in the north.
However, the fact is, wealthy people have the biggest footprint on this planet. The planet is not in peril because of the poor and the extra soot expelled by their inefficient vehicles. Their inefficiencies pale in comparison to the per capita resource consumption and ensuing environmental effects of the wealthy North.
To achieve true sustainability on this planet, both from a human perspective and an ecological perspective, we must build equity for the poor, but we must also build sustainable living culture in the wealthy. We must create alternative value systems that redefine what it means to be wealthy so that when the poor of today build enough equity and get to “wealth”, the planet can sustain them and us.
For this reason, evolving the mindset in the north is the most powerful way to affect ecological change in the short and medium term. This evolution requires tremendous expansion of empathy and fundamental changes to our growth models and blueEnergy alumni are well positioned to play a leadership role.
A key challenge to finding sustainability is that we humans require growth to thrive. Our sense of happiness is tied to our perception of change in a positive direction far more than to our current position. The satisfaction from yesterday’s advancement is fleeting today. This drives our need for continual growth. In the West and North, growth has often been defined as growth in material wealth. This is sometimes referred to as outward growth. In some Eastern traditions, this growth can take the form of increased spiritual awareness and mindfulness. This is sometimes referred to as a type of inward growth.
When basic needs are not met, the desired form of growth is typically in the material realm – better food, better shelter, better clothing. Even once basic needs are met, there is motivation for further accumulation of material wealth that allows for better health, better education, etc. But at some point, the accumulation of more stuff provides ever less meaningful and ever less lasting happiness; at this “material wealth tipping point”, the desire for internal growth naturally dominates.
As we humans push out towards the ecological limits of the planet and swell in numbers, we find ourselves forced to interact more frequently and in increasingly complex situations. Building understanding between peoples with differing world views and finding ways to create growth for all without destroying the biosphere and inciting armed conflict over resources is the new challenge. In order to achieve this, we must redefine the “material wealth tipping point” to one that is ecologically sustainable while still delivering a high quality of life.
This is a global challenge that requires a new skill set in our global leaders – a skill set based on empathy, mindfulness around resource consumption and a new vision of wealth that emphasizes internal growth far more than the average model today.
So more than a one-way conduit channeling international talent to remote communities, blueEnergy serves as a two-way bridge, where internationals lend their talents to remote communities and walk away changed themselves, and nationals help broaden the perspective of internationals and in turn increase their own capacity to understand and participate in global affairs. In this way, one of blueEnergy’s most significant impact areas is in strengthening the global leadership for tomorrow’s world.
On a personal note, I want to say that I do not separate myself from the “wealthy North”. I put myself in the box of people whose consumption habits must change, who must transition to a more sustainable living culture. I think about this daily and work on it in spurts, looking for ways to lower my footprint without giving up quality of life and “ability to contribute in a meaningful way”. Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes it’s not and requires a change in a value system. But being on this journey is what it means to be a member of the blueEnergy team.
Significant contributions to this post by Guillaume Craig.