Taken from Ashoka www.ashoka.org/fec''

Access to energy for the base of the pyramid

1.6 billion people do not have access to electricity. 3 billion people still use traditional biomass for cooking. This has serious consequences on the affected populations in terms of health, education, well-being, or development.

As major stakeholders in the energy sector and the development of energy-based products and services, Total, Schneider Electric and GDF SUEZ each have respective ways of getting involved. Together they have decided to share their analysis of the issue, and to devise new possible forms of action in that realm.

Those three corporations jointly entrusted Hystra, in collaboration with the international network of social entrepreneurs Ashoka, to conduct a study regarding different projects allowing energy access to poor sections of the population from developing countries — mostly initiatives started by local entrepreneurs.

Focused on energy access projects for the most underprivileged sections of the population (BOP, Base of the Pyramid), the work consisted in an in-depth field study including on-site visits, interviews of the relevant parties, as well as workshops for evaluation and experience sharing.

The Access to Energy project is an effort to broaden the understanding of the range of possible strategies to provide modern, clean, and safe energy to the poorest population, the Base of the Pyramid (BOP).¹ The BOP as defined by "The Next 4 Billion"² is the four billion customers living on an annual per capita income that is less than $3000 in purchasing power parity (PPP). The BOP is further divided in 6 income level groups. The lowest segment groups those with an annual revenue per capita below $500PPP (BOP500) and the highest one those with a revenue comprised between $2500 and 3000PPP (BOP3000).

What is revealed through that study?
First, it appears that the gap between the social and the economic realms is not unbridgeable, as it is possible to both take into account social-related issues (in our case, access to energy) and create economically sustainable companies that meet with the demand of those "markets", that are sometimes seen as insolvent prior to examination.

The study also teaches that the adequate response to the needs of underprivileged sections of the population can be elaborated not only by developing products and services that are cost and need efficient, but also through the optimization of the "human capital" of the above-mentioned sections — i.e. their organization skills, the existing solidarities between them, and their social networks.

Lastly, the study shows us that the most successful social entrepreneurs are also the ones who tried harder to get the users who were implied in the value-added processes involved. Indeed, viewing users as agents and including them in the production, transformation and distribution processes, does seem to be a key condition to the development of promising social businesses.

''¹ Please see pg. 94 for an explanation of Base of the Pyramid levels, and how they are utilized throughout this report
² The Next 4 Billion; World Resources Institute and International Finance Corporation. March 2007.''

Read the report in full here