A team of four Oxford students, including a recipient of this year’s Somerville College Development Award, will travel to India in the summer to test their social enterprise model providing renewable energy to India’s most under-served communities
‘Empower Energy’ aims to provide access to clean, safe, and trustworthy solar electricity to the 240 million people in India that are not reached by the power grid and are unable to afford alternative solutions, such as solar home systems, due to their high upfront cost and requirement for regular payments.
The team comprises Gideon Laux, a Somervillian studying for an MSc in Economics for Development, Ronit Kanwar, an Economics & Management student, James Dickson, who is completing his MBA at Saïd Business School, and Vabyanti Endrojono-Ellis, an MPhil student in Development Studies.
“Empower Energy’s innovative last-mile distribution model leverages existing technology to reach the millions of households below the poverty line that have been left unserved by existing alternatives’,” Gideon said. ‘The Solar ATMs are solar-powered charging stations run by local entrepreneurs, where customers will initially be able to rent battery packs to charge their devices, such as lights and mobile phones, and will eventually have access to further energy-enabled services, such as educational content or government programmes.”
In April, Empower Energy took home the €10,000 Grand Prize at the 2018 Morpheus Cup European Universities & Graduate Schools Championship in Paris. The team also won the London regional finals of the Hult Prize, making them one of only 16 regional winners out of 100,000 entrants to participate in a six-week summer accelerator programme and have the chance to become one of the final six teams to pitch for $1 million in seed funding at the Hult Prize Global Finals in New York in September.
Gideon is a recipient of this year’s Somerville College Development Award from the Margaret Thatcher Scholarship Trust (MTST). These awards aim to support Somerville’s most promising students and to enable their participation in innovative projects that develop the recipient’s skills and have a positive impact on others.
Gideon said: “Given our focus on India and our goal to create economic opportunities particularly for women in disadvantaged communities, I feel that our endeavour is very much in line with the ethos of Somerville, and am thus all the more grateful for the College’s support.”
Nayan Patel, member of the International Advisory Board for the Oxford India Centre for Sustainable Development, which is based at Somerville College, said: “I have been highly impressed by the entrepreneurial spirit displayed by the team but more importantly the focus given to the social and economic impact that the enterprise will have in uplifting, empowering and creating life-changing opportunities for the most under-served communities in India.”