Checkout the results of my two months spent in Kamanggih evaluating IBEKA's impact on community empowerment. Click here.
How I Got Here
Thanks to the work of Duke Engage and a team of Duke professors, administrators, graduate and undergraduate students, I find myself on the other side of the world with Connor Guest, a Duke senior studying mechanical engineering, as my partner for 5 weeks. A Bass Connections team spent the year looking at ways for Duke to become more involved in Energy Access across the world. With their help, I received funding and assistance from the Duke Engage Independent Program. The goal is to help IBEKA, an Indonesian NGO that works to empower communities through the provision of renewable electricity, measure their impact and create a tool for consistent analysis of their work. After spending a week in Jakarta getting to know the people, work, and language of IBEKA, we head to Kamanggih Village on Sumba Island in South East Indonesia.
The Challenge: Measuring and conveying Community Empowerment
Many of the impacts of IBEKA's work are already known. The provision of consistent and affordable electricity has been shown to produce results worth celebrating. The prevalence respiratory issues, headache, burning throat decline along with spending on health as kerosene lamps are replaced with light bulbs. Expenses for kerosene and flashlights drop to nearly zero. While modest, some households see gains in income as craftwork can be continued past dusk. Children study longer and reach higher grade levels with the ability to work at night. Schools can utilize electronic teaching tools and remain open after dark. IBEKA also helps communities organize cooperatives to manage the micro-hydro power plants sustainably and use the income generated from electricity sales to provide community assistance in the forms of loans, educational stipends, and infrastructure projects. Overall, households experience improved health, greater economic opportunities, and higher educational achievement. Of course we see all of these impacts as positive changes, but do they constitute community empowerment?
In speaking with Pak Adi, Program Director for IBEKA, we learned about IBEKA's challenges in trying to accurately measure the effects of their work and convey these effects with donors and the public who can be narrowly concerned with parameters commonly assumed to be linked to "progress". Sure, improved health almost always constitutes progress. But does greater wealth and educational achievement among individuals in a community lead to a more cohesive, functional, and supportive community? Not necessarily.
IBEKA is wary of its ability to create conflict. By dividing groups between electrified and non electrified, tensions can arise. Without proper management of the cooperatives, individuals can become scapegoats for the community's inability to hold itself accountable. After electrification, some villages experience covetous races to accumulate appliances and the status they represent. If the aim is to empower communities, traditional measurements of development can become meaningless.
Figure it out along the way.
Community Empowerment is rarely uniform in every community. What constitutes empowerment in your neighborhood, school, or workplace is of course different than what constitutes empowerment in a poor rural village in Indonesia. More relevant, what constitutes community empowerment in two poor rural villages in Indonesia may be completely different despite the villages having the same demographic and socioeconomic characteristics.
As we quickly learned from our first couple days in Jakarta, it's not always best to have a plan. While we know at the very least we will be conducting a survey of different households at some point, it is almost impossible to know if the questions we think are important will have real meaning until we arrive in Kamanggih. We also hope to tell the story of the Kamanggih community through a series of videos.
We finished our first week in Kamanggih getting to know the people and how they use electricity. Check out my blog post for more.
Week 3 begins tomorrow with our translator coming to help us with interviews.