On Monday, September 14, We Care Solar was announced as the first-ever winner of a $1 million grant by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA). We Care Solar, a non-profit organization that provides ‘Solar Suitcases’ to off-grid health clinics in order to prevent maternal and child complications during labor, was co-founded by UC Berkeley School of Public Health alumna Laura Stachel MD, MPH '06. The organization is based out of the UC Berkeley Blum Center for Developing Economies.
"The United Nations is shining a light on an area that has all too often been overlooked—the lack of reliable electricity in health facilities" said Dr. Stachel at the award ceremony, which was held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. "This award is the beginning of a brighter future for women everywhere. No woman should die giving life."
The recently established “Powering the Future We Want” initiative promotes innovative solutions and recognizes leadership in meeting the energy challenge by funding future capacity-building activities in energy for sustainable development. The grant initiative is carried out by DESA in collaboration with the China Energy Fund Committee, a Hong Kong-based non-governmental organization in consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council.
Stachel sees the initiative as a signal of the convergence of efforts around global health, renewable energy and sustainable development. "There can no longer be silos between global health goals and sustainable energy goals," she said in her acceptance speech.
The UN-DESA Energy Grant received over 200 applications for its first award. We Care Solar was selected through a rigorous review and objective assessment of these applications, undertaken in multiple stages, guided by an advisory council and a steering committee.
At the ceremony, General Assembly President Sam Kutesa thanked the finalists for their hard work and innovation in seeking practical solutions in sustainable energy, and said he was “impressed by a number of proposals and the inspired way in which applicants addressed sustainability issues.”
The Solar Suitcase provides off-grid health clinics with solar power for critical obstetric and surgical lighting, mobile phones, fetal heart rate monitors and other essential medical devices. It thereby facilitates timely and appropriate emergency care in an effort to reduce maternal and infant morbidity in more than 20 countries in Africa and South Asia. In the last five years, We Care Solar, in close collaboration with local partners, has succeeded in delivering 1,300 Solar Suitcases to health facilities, empowering 5,000 health workers in the areas of solar energy utilization, installation and servicing to ensure the Solar Suitcases have a long-lasting impact. With the help of the Grant, We Care Solar will be able to bring the program to scale, maximize the products' effectiveness, and build capacity.
“We in this room know how to solve darkness—with light,” Stachel said when accepting the award. “Our goal is to put that solution in a box and get it to every health care facility in the world.”