At ALIVE, we seek to go beyond counting beneficiaries, measuring changes that occur in beneficiary lives thanks to the products and services of portfolio companies. This way, we can not only understand how those products and services are having an impact, but also the depth of those impacts. Using those insights, along with portfolio companies, we can leverage impact data to improve business performance and outcomes for beneficiaries.
In partnership with 60 Decibels, a recognized industry leader in the field of impact measurement, we completed an impact measurement project with portfolio company, SunColombia, to better understand how SunColombia’s solar energy installations were impacting previously off-grid schools and communities. This blog gives a snapshot of the results from that study, especially those findings which particularly jumped out at us.
Tackling the lack of electricity in low-income rural communities across Colombia
Despite significant expansion of the electric grid, about 20 million Latin Americans do not have access to electricity, including nearly 2 million people in Colombia, mostly from low-income communities in rural areas. Access to clean, renewable energy can help off-grid households move up the energy ladder and improve health, education, and economic outcomes.
SunColombia is a renewable solar energy EPC (engineering, procurement, and construction) company with a strong focus on social impact. The Company works in both on-grid, and off-grid regions of Colombia, and has a broad range of clients including, national government electrification funds, local government entities, medium to large private companies, NGOs, among others.
The company has developed solar systems for off-grid communities with a focus on electrifying rural schools in Colombia, thus allowing students and teachers to have a sustainable and constant source of energy. This line of business was the focus for the Lean Data study.
To-date the company has installed 1,200+ solar home systems and solar installations in 500+ rural schools in 17 departments in Colombia. The Company has also implemented 52 solar interactive classrooms in rural areas, which include not only solar photovoltaic systems, but also LAN networks and equipment to make classes more interactive (tablets, interactive projector). To date, SunColombia has worked in some of the most vulnerable communities in Colombia.
SunColombia’s life-changing solar energy solutions
“The teaching quality has improved, 100%. Access to permanent energy opens doors to other important services; in our case to the internet.”
“With the panels, you can turn on the light, it has improved the security, and now I can review homework at night.”
Our impact measurement project, implemented in partnership with 60 Decibels, focused on how SunColombia is impacting schools where it has completed installations and was conducted via telephone interviews with hundreds of school administrators and parents of students.
Here is a snapshot of some of the key results:
85% of school administrators reported that quality of life has improved
83% of parents reported that the educational experience of their kids has improved
4 out of 5 school administrators say that the teacher’s ability to teach has improved.
The parents surveyed had an average household size of nearly 6 people, an average monthly income of $84 USD (less than $3 USD / day, which is below the poverty line in Colombia).
More than 9 in 10 schools were accessing lighting or electronic educational tools for the first time, and 86% said they could not easily find a good alternative.
Half of school administrators say the community members use the SunColombia products outside of school times.
A top challenge and suggestion for improvement is better upkeep of equipment, as 38% of school administrators requested more post-installation training or maintenance.
The community ripple effect of first-time energy access
As we can see from the above summary of results, the impact measurement project revealed strong evidence for the positive changes electricity generation can bring to not just previously off-grid schools, but the overall communities they are a part of.
For example, 34% of school administrators reported that the school is used for community activities now where it was not previously thanks to SunColombia’s services. This demonstrates a direct impact on the community more broadly, beyond the impact on the students while they are in class.
Of the parents in communities where the school has solar installations complemented by SunColombia’s provision of educational tools, more than half of parents reported that they have used the tools themselves, further demonstrating that the energy benefits spread across the community.
In terms of education experience, 83% of parents and 90% of school administrators said it had improved, and administrators reported “better able to teach”, “improved academic performance”, and “improved classroom facilities” as some of the primary positive changes thanks to the electricity access.
It is also clear that the solar installations have generated overall quality of life improvements. An impressive 85% of school administrators reported improved quality of life due to: “improved condition of school/classrooms,” “improved quality of education,” and “accessing energy,” for themselves or students.
Overall, the results from this study indicate that SunColombia is not only reaching underserved communities but having a significant impact in their lives.
Where does SunColombia go from here?
The results of this study give SunColombia a clearer understanding regarding the “ripple effect” of their school-based solar installations. Not only do educational spaces improve, but the schools also seem to become hubs for other community activities and electricity uses.
With these data, SunColombia is better equipped to further address the lack of electricity faced by millions of low-income populations in Colombia, and to also deliver more comprehensive solutions which expand the positive impacts experienced by those communities.