Following up Pat’s ‘stirling’ first effort it falls to me, Tom, to follow up with the second missive from the JBS renewable energy project. However, since Pat focused more on what we are doing, I will focus a little more on the why.
To set the scene this blog is being written from the back of an old Toyota Landcruiser as we wind our way through mid-eastern Nepal. Musical horns on garishly painted trucks sound every time we miss one by inches whilst the pile of passengers on their roofs cheer and wave. Everest and the Tibetan/Chinese border lie some way to the north and Kathmandu, our destination, to the west. The hot air, and indeed my screen, are thick with road dust, a stark contrast from the fresh mountain air we woke to this morning in a remote Nepalese village. Three of us are squeezed onto the back seat. I am half sitting on the wheel arch and wonder if my right buttock will ever feel sensation again. One team member is is in the boot, but he is comparatively happy considering he was sharing it with four villagers earlier, and before that he spent a cold night sharing a narrow, five foot bed with another colleague after the village amenities turned out to be substantially sparser than expected….
Since the last post we have continued with our field visits to get to grips with the kinds of renewable energy projects being implemented and the contexts within which they work. At the moment we are returning from a combined hydroram (an old but underused technology which uses the energy from a flowing river to pump water uphill to communities that need it) and hydroelectric project in the village of Sisneri, some nine hours journey from Kathmandu, all hosted by the Nepalese Centre for Renewable Technology (CRT). Unlike the Pokhara region the people in this area look more Tibetan than Indian, with cheerful round faces, blushing cheeks and the women have long pig tails. As ever we were received with unbelievable warmth, with village leaders proudly guiding us around the machinery before spending hours in evening conversation on the pros and cons of their particular system before feeding us dhal baat and handing over their own beds for us to sleep, refusing to accept any payment in return. We left with flower garlands around our necks and bright red tika marks on our foreheads.
So why did five business students choose Kathmandu over the slightly better known business centres of the world?. The School offered a range of exciting ways to spend our Easter break, from financial analysis in London’s iconic ‘Gherkin’ building to getting googly with Google in Israel to tackling corruption in the Middle East to advising on electric cars for Aston Martin. What person in their right mind would choose three weeks of lentils and rice for their GCP? For me there were two reasons. The first was the project itself – Renewable World are an up and coming NGO with a strong foundation in market based solutions and an exciting future ahead. The project they were proposing was intriguing. With an NGO background of my own I know that ‘ownership’ is a crucial issue in development work sustainability. All over the world lie great projects that have fallen to ruin following the end of an NGO’s involvement and the lack of perceived ownership by the target community is often a crucial factor in their demise. Furthermore, isolating the role of ownership required more than a simple academic review of previously published work since barely any exists. This was a project that needed a mix of background research, organizational interviews and rural fieldwork combined with a little creative intuition and that, say Renewable World, is why it was an ideal MBA project.
But the task alone was not enough to persuade me to choose the project. The GCP is an ideal time to test out new industries and make contacts for future careers and, following eight years in the NGO world I had fully intended to dip my toe into something new. The second factor that swayed me was the team. The Renewable World project had been set up by Pat following contacts he made during his Cambridge Venture Project. By early January he had already proposed his madcap plan to four vaguely like-minded students, including me. All of us had several irons in fires at the time and whilst it looked great fun, my head told me that gaining some experience in the city or in the carbon markets I wanted to work in made more sense. But as the PBD meetings (Pub Based Discussion – but calling them PBD meetings made them easier to pass by our respective wives and partners) progressed I came to realize Pat had put a great group together. The final straw was a conversation with an alternative GCP client, himself a Judge Business School alum. Whilst the project he was offering sounded ideal for me, his advice was go with the team, not the subject, as the main source of learning on a GCP is from your colleagues. I took the plunge and have yet to regret it for a second. Not only am I learning volumes about renewable energy and rural development, but I think we are also forming networks within the JBS team that will endure for the rest of our working lives. And if they don’t, I always have the photos of a chilly Nick and Goncalo huddled in bed together to ensure they remain useful contacts for me into the future…
(For videos of Nick demonstrating micro hydro, please go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rsya3Y7waHw or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WmLHNWjGZwk)