Archive for the ‘about us’ Category

David Zhou, Michel Maupoux, and students from Northwestern reflect on their project of installing water pumps in the Philippines.

Over the past year, a team of students from Northwestern started working on a technology called the hydraulic ram pump.  By communicating with Green Empowerment and Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation, Inc (AIDFI), a local NGO in the Philippines, our team slowly began to build up knowledge of the pump and its system. We learned that the ram pump functioned purely as a mechanical system with two moving parts and that it used gravity from falling water to build up pressure and push water uphill. To further experiment with the pump system, we built our own model and received a full-size ram pump body from AIDFI. After learning about some of its minutiae, we began to brainstorm ways to improve the system. One of the main problems with the ram pump is that the waste valve becomes harder to open with increasing size of the pump. Hundreds of pounds of force needs to be applied in order to start a 6 inch ram pump, one of the newest models. Our team designed a lever mechanism that could be affixed to the pump and allow the user to apply the leverage necessary to manipulate a 6 inch pump. At the end of the academic year, four members from the team traveled to the island of Negros in the Philippines to help install and implement a new ram pump system.

The installation crew - tired but content

When I first arrived in the Philippines and went to the construction site, two things immediately struck me. First was the steepness of the hill that led to the source of water. The climb was over 60 meters and by the time I climbed to the top my thighs were burning, my back was drenched with sweat, and I was out of breath. I couldn’t imagine Filipinos, especially kids, having to carry heavy buckets of water up these hills. Second was the amiable nature of the workers. Each worker had to walk 30 minutes a day and needed to brave the unpredictable weather; yet, each of them was cheerful and outgoing. After a couple weeks of building, the ram pump structures near the source were completed and work moved to Tres Hermanos to build the reservoir, line, and tap stands. There, the residents had to endure a similar grueling walk in order to fetch water. During our stay, an auxiliary line was diverted for us from the pump and it soon became a gathering place for the villagers. People came to shower, to wash their clothes, and to fill their water jugs. I was seeing firsthand the impact that clean, running water was having on the community. When the distribution line was finished, tests showed that the pump was delivering twice as much water as predicted, over fifty thousand liters per day! This would provide ample water to the 48 households in Tres Hermanos. Now that I am back in the US, I am so thankful to have had a chance to work on this project with AIDFI and Green Empowerment and my Northwestern teammates. It has made me appreciate the little things in life that we in America take for granted. We will not easily forget the people we met in the Philippines nor the friendships we made.


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Francie Royce and her husband Michael are the founders of Green Empowerment. They are currently in the Philippines evaluating our past installments and documenting the wonderful progress of our partners. SIBAT, which means spear, is making strides in sustainable agriculture. Taste the story below.

Landing in Manila on February 11, after a
22 hour trip from Portland, to LA then through Seoul, Korea, we headed to our Quezon City hotel, the Fersal Inn, for a nap. A basket of sweet yellow mangoes, a bunch of bananas, raw sugar and a jar of honey sent by Shen Maglinte of SIBAT, a Green Empowerment partner, surprised us at hotel reception.The next day we met our friends from SIBAT for lunch at a near-by restaurant, The Tree House. Shen had ordered in advance, so as soon as we sat down, the food started coming. Tilapia, milk fish, sautéed greens in oyster sauce topped with tofu, stuffed lettuce rolls, roasted chicken, hot and sour flavored soup, and on it came. After a filling lunch, we all loaded into tricycles for a short ride to the SIBAT office to meet Ileene the marketing manager of the SIBAT organic foods store and for Michael to begin his interviews with Executive Director Vicki Lopez.

The next afternoon the SIBAT driver picked us up and after collecting Ileene and Vicki, then Vicki’s friends all on slower-than-planned Filipino time, we headed two hours north to TarLac to visit the SIBAT organic farm.

It was past sundown when workers at the farm greeted us with boiled cassava, (filling) and lemon grass tea (refreshing) as we chatted and got to know Vicki’s friends. Back into the van, we headed out to dinner. We were the only customers at The May Farm Restaurant, whose menu heralded organic vegetables and rare meats. Mounted on the wall, heads of small deer looked down on our table and an array of photos showed off the hunting prowess of the owner and his son. One was a photo of a younger man carrying a hoary wild boar on his back with blood dripping down his legs. A brief allusion to the mysterious death of the owner and his son and suggestion of a political murder added to the hunter’s mystic and the weirdness of the restaurant. The soup was tasty, though.

Back at the farm—- Raised beds are planted with a wide variety of rotated crops of leafy greens, peppers, tomatoes and other vegetables. Deep purple egg plants hang from their plants ready to harvest. Farm workers make sure there is enough harvest each week to provision the small organic food store in Quezon City. The farm is a teaching opportunity for surrounding farmers to learn sustainable agriculture. SIBAT’s goal is to teach the teachers to help farmers learn how to farm sustainably, without being dependent on commercial seed and fertilizers.

The main farm building is built of decorative woven palm panels over bamboo poles with a palm thatch roof. We slept soundly on a foam pad laid out under mosquito netting on a split bamboo floor. Roosters all over the country side competing with each other woke us before dawn, early enough to sit outside and watch sunlight creep over the green rice fields of the adjacent farm, shining on the farmer who was already working in his field. A farm worker showed me where hot cups of coffee sat on a counter waiting for takers. The coffee was thick and sweetened with raw sugar. After daylight I found three gently curled, soft downy feathers lying on top of our mosquito netting. Rooster noise woke us but the sparrow flying through our bedroom didn’t.

Posted by Francie Royce

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The actions of Walt Ratterman speak more clearly about his character than anything I could write. He has personally brought light to thousands of people around the world.  For example, he was the driving force behind bringing solar power to 37 clinics in Burma, serving over  170,000 internally displaced people a year. We had the honor of knowing and learning from Walt, an exemplary humanitarian dedicated to improving life around the world with renewable energy. We traveled and worked together in Thailand, Laos, Philippines, Peru and Nicaragua, while he was Program Director of Green Empowerment from 2003-2006. He worked side by side installing solar panels with Shuar natives in the jungles of Ecuador, traversed the rapids of rivers in Borneo to help on a micro-hydro project, and taught renewable energy in the highlands of Peru. He could easily make friends with people around the world, despite the language barriers, because anyone could relate to his sense of humor and down-to-earth friendliness. In 2006 he founded SunEnergy Power International , carried on his long-time work with Knightsbridge International, and continued to inspire everyone with his hard work, unwavering sense of justice and belief that everyone deserves to be treated as equals. In January, 2010, his dedication to humanity brought him to Haiti, where he was working on the installation of solar power for clinics. He was there when the earthquake hit. Friends and family searched for him in the ruins and sent their prayers.  Tragically, he did not survive, but his legacy lives on. He has taught me, and hundreds of others, that humility is a powerful force that can change the world.

-Anna Garwood and the Green Empowerment team

As a testiment to how many lives he has touched, as of writing this, there are 1882 fans of his Facebook page…


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The interview below was conducted by Nan Mooney, an editor at a new philanthropic website called igivingworld, a project that aspires to greater impact, efficiency and solutions for the world from the philanthropic sector. Gordy Molitor, the interviewee, is Green Empowerment’s Executive Director, and has a deep commitment to the eradication of poverty.

How did Green Empowerment come about? What need was it hoping to fill?

Green Empowerment was born in 1997 from several interrelated communities in Portland, Oregon.  They were all friends — social justice activists, environmentalists, and internationalists.  These roots led naturally to the mission of Green Empowerment: To partner with rural communities in the developing world to implement renewable energy and water systems that alleviate poverty and preserve the environment. With the ideals of justice and sustainability as the basis for a development model, Green Empowerment’s first major project was funding the continuation of micro-hydro projects in Nicaragua that had been started by Ben Linder, a young engineer from Portland who had been killed, during the Nicaraguan civil war by the Contras. Green Empowerment continues to work with this Nicaragua NGO, and now at least eight other partners in six countries.

Why did you opt to focus specifically on developing renewable energy and water systems?

Because renewable energy and water are basic to development and the eradication of poverty.

Over 1.6 billion people worldwide live in the dark. Not only is this unjust; it means that they will not live healthy and productive lives and will remain on the sidelines of the modern economy.  Without electricity, they will not have health clinics with refrigeration for vaccines or essential medical instruments.  Without electrical light in their homes, they will suffer respiratory and eye problems from indoor air pollution, and not be able to study or work after dark.  Without electricity to run small motors, they will not be able to power mills, lathes, or lights in their small businesses. And without electricity they will not have cell phones or computers that are so essential to participating in today’s economy.

Water is, of course, essential.  The lack of potable water is the number one cause of preventable death in the developing world.  Two million people die every year, due to diarrheal diseases, most are children less than five years of age.

Green Empowerment started with a focus on renewable energy and added water, after listening to the priority needs of the communities in which we work.

What is most innovative about Green Empowerment’s approach?

I believe that Green Empowerment’s sustainability and development models set us apart from most foundations and western NGOs and make our investments highly leveraged and sustainable.

Our projects are environmentally, technically, socially and economically sustainable.  By considering and balancing all four of these factors in the design and implementation of our projects, they will continue to help eliminate poverty for years to come.

Our development model is based on the working relationship between local communities benefiting from the project, national host-country technical NGOs, and Green Empowerment.  It is very much like a three-legged stool.  Each leg of the stool has it respective and important role that complements, harmonizes and supports the others and leads to the ultimate success and sustainability of the renewable energy and water projects.  The community is not simply the beneficiary of the renewable energy or water system.  It is the critical actor in the design, financing, implementation, maintenance and evaluation of the system.  Host-country technical NGOs link the community, Green Empowerment, local regional and national governments donors and others.  They know the local language and culture and have a long-term commitment to the rural communities in which we work.

We are also developing an international Service Learning program, where we partner with universities to integrate sustainability issues into their curriculum and take students and faculty overseas for hands-on experience on in the developing world.  We have university partnerships with Cal Poly Pomona, the University of Michigan, Northwestern University, Presidio School of Management, Virginia Tech, and Portland State University.   We also place interns with our partners, in a relationship where the interns strengthen the capacity of our partners and learn a great deal in the process.

How do you select Green Empowerment projects? Are you typically part of a project from the start or are you more likely to invest in existing ventures?

Our host-country technical partners lead in selecting projects, by deciding which technologies we will work with and in identifying and organizing communities in which we will work.  Our projects, therefore, depend on technical capacities of our partners.  For example, we have several partners that work almost exclusively on micro hydro projects.  One is internationally recognized for its work with Green Empowerment on solar health clinics in a war zone, another has won awards for its work with ram pumps, and another is a leader in developing small wind power.  We are developing a coalition of NGOs working on biogas digesters in Latin America.  Where these projects are implements is usually a joint decision between our partner, local government, Green Empowerment and, of course, the community in which it will be installed.

How do you involve the local community in your work?

The local communities are involved in all phase of our projects.  They contribute to the design of a project by helping to locate and size the system.  For example, the community will identify the water source; and the women will be involved in the location of water distribution points.  The community will assist with the financing of the system, by donating land, local materials, and the hard labor of laying water pipes or elevating solar panels.  Finally, the community is responsible for the ongoing management of the system, in establishing a committee or small corporation to operate the system and to collect tariffs to finance ongoing operation and maintenance.

Your work involves partnering with NGOs in the developing world. How do you ensure these collaborations go smoothly?

The most important factor in the success of our projects is that Green Empowerment establishes long-term, open and constructive working relationships with our partners, based on mutual respect and trust.  Because they are all technically competent in their fields and because we work with them, over a period of years, on projects of priority to the communities that they work with and of importance to their institutional development, we are valued partners.   We are in frequent e-mail and phone contact with them, visit nearly all of them at least annually, have interns working in many of their offices, and have a staff person working from our partner’s office in Peru.

In addition to this constructive relationship, Green Empowerment undertakes a number of due diligence steps with all of our projects.  We review them technically, financially and programmatically, against our sustainability criteria.  We sign sub-grant agreements for each project, require written progress reports and financial reports, and make on-site visits to nearly all of the projects that we fund.

What has been one of your most notable successes so far?

In Peru, in collaboration with our partner, Soluciones Practicas, we are developing a viable model for decentralized renewable energy electrification.  Currently developing countries use the traditional model for electrification of centralized power generation and extensive national grids.  This traditional model is not viable for isolated rural areas, because of their low population density, distance from sources of power generation and the high cost of extending the grid up mountainsides and into rain forests.

We completed a plan for electrification of a municipality that had some of the lowest electrical coverage in the country.  The plan identified the potential for 11 micro hydro systems, 9 wind systems, and 26 village solar systems.  Since the plan was completed in 2008, we have funded 1 of the micro hydro systems, 2 of the wind systems and are working with the municipality and the local utility to fund the implementation of the village solar systems.

This planning methodology is being replicated in another part of Peru and could be adapted for use in other countries, as a way of using decentralized power generation to electrify isolated areas.

Have there been any mistakes or missteps along the way? What have you learned from them?

Of course, we have made mistakes.  And we have learned a lot, over the past 12 years.  Green Empowerment’s first projects relied on engineering and funding from the United States.

We learned that nearly all of the engineering necessary for renewable energy projects already exists in the countries where we work, and that it is most effective — in terms of designing an appropriate system, sustainability, and follow-up on the installed system — to build upon that local competency.

We also learned that our local partners are very effective in finding resources for renewable energy and water projects.  In fact, most village-level projects that we help to finance are largely financed by our partners through donations from local government, the communities, and other funding sources, which Green Empowerment could not access.

What are Green Empowerment’s most pressing short-term goals?

As I write this response, we were organizing the final details of Sun, Wind and Gears, a 35-mile, bike-borne renewable energy fundraising event sponsored by SolarWorld, the largest solar cell manufacturer in the Americas. The Green Empowerment event coincides and integrates with SolarWorld’s first anniversary in Oregon and the topping out of their second solar-cell factory.  We hope that this will develop into a signature event for the renewable energy community in the Portland-area and for Green Empowerment.

What do you envision for the organization over the longer term?

Green Empowerment will remain committed to its roots in social justice and environmentalism and to working toward a more just and sustainable world.  We will continue to deepen and expand our programming with our existing partners and will expand into other Latin American, Asian, and, hopefully, African countries.  We will continue to work with micro hydro and solar technologies and expand our capacity to work with biogas, wind and in-stream turbines. We will also continue to develop our model for regional planning for renewable energy electrification.

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A recent article in the Oregonian describes the relationship between Portland’s sustainable practices and Green Empowerment’s work globally.  This article is on a continuation of a theme from a Proclamation we recently received by both the City of Portland and the State of Oregon (blush).


Have thoughts or comments?  Leave a comment on the O’s blog, if you have something to say.  Like it and care to share?  Digg, Facebook, Tweet, StmbleUpon, or Redd It.

Thank you all for taking the time to read and having the heart to continue this work.  With the CineLayan Film Festival, a recent reception at City Hall, and Proclamations received by both our home City and State, we feel truly lucky to have such profound relationships with both our partners and supporters.  It has been a blissful week.

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Green Empowerment has been selected as one of three finalists for the international Energy Globe Award in the “Water” category, for a series of solar water pumping projects in Nicaragua with partner AsoFenix.  To say we’re excited would be a vast understatement!

Nominations were chosen from a pool of 800 projects in 110 countries. A winner in each category will be selected at the Energy Globe Awards ceremony preceding the informal meeting of European Environment ministers in Prague on April 14th. The winner will receive 10,000 euros.

Our own Michel Maupoux will represent Green Empowerment at the formal Energy Globe Awards in Prague. Invitees to the meeting also include Carol Browner, climate advisor of US President Barack Obama, And our Thai partner, Border Green Energy Team. The event will be a televised gala that is viewed worldwide.

Green Empowerment was singled out as one of the top three organizations in the world for its “Solar Water Pumping and Community Empowerment” projects in Nicaragua. Green Empowerment worked with Nicaraguan partner Asofenix to construct three solar water pumps in rural Nicaragua between 2004 and 2007, bringing water to the homes of 960 people who previously had to haul buckets long distances. These projects dramatically improve health and well being with environmentally sound alternative energy.

“Many of the challenges facing rural communities in developing countries can now be addressed by the use of simple, cost-effective sustainable systems like the solar water pump,” said Gordy Molitor, Executive Director, Green Empowerment. “However, moving forward, one of our goals is to assist with extended deployment of these systems by local organizations on a more regional level. The recognition by the Energy Globe Awards jury is a welcome validation of this work.”

Solar water pumping catalyzed community efforts to construct latrines, home gardens, build biogas digesters, showers and hand-washing stations. Each village organized to self-manage the systems, collects a tariff to maintain them, and elects a technician to operate the systems. Green Empowerment helped install a fourth solar pump in 2008 and has further plans for 2009 and beyond for more regional projects throughout rural Nicaragua.

The Energy Globe Award distinguishes projects that sustainably use our resources such as water, earth, energy and air or use renewable energy forms. Awards are given nationally and internationally in the categories Earth, Fire, Water, Air and Youth. The Awards were established in 1999.

In addition to acknowledgment of Green Empowerment’s work, the Energy Globe has also recognized two of its partners. Thai partner Border Green Energy Team is the national winner for Burma and a finalist in the Fire category for the “Burma Solar Clinic and Hospital Project”, and Peruvian partner Practical Action has won the national Award for Peru for “Renewable Energy for Community Empowerment in Peru”.  Last year’s top nominees included SIBAT for “Fire” and AIDFI for “Water”.

We are deeply grateful to our partners and to our donors for bringing this distinction to our shared work.

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Written by Jay Moskovitz

Lisa Adatto

Lisa Adatto

“No carbon footprint often means no hope. There is a balance, a trade-off. Energy brings hope to people. It brings possibilities and opportunities. Green Empowerment has an interesting model: through energy, you bring opportunities and possibilities: better health care, better class rooms, new local industries and businesses.” These are some of the thoughts of Lisa Adatto, a member of the Green Empowerment board.

Lisa became involved with Green Empowerment in 1997 when she mentioned her interest in environmental organizations to her friend Michael Royce, Green Empowerment’s founder. Michael knew she had valuable business experience, specifically in documenting accurate financial statements. As this is an area that often trips up a young non-profit, he requested that she join the Green Empowerment board. Since joining, Lisa has continued volunteering with Green Empowerment as board member and treasurer, and is now planning on leaving the board at the end of the year. For Lisa: “It just felt like the right time. We have a number of young board members who are terrific, who bring a lot of energy.”

As one of the original Green Empowerment board members, Lisa reflected on how she was able to see the organization grow and develop. “[At the beginning] there was no staff – Michael did everything himself. Green Empowerment was building off a very strong organization – the Linder family had formed an organization to continue the work that their son Ben Linder was involved with in Nicaragua, until he was murdered. The mission was transforming low-income, poverty communities in other countries, starting with Nicaragua, by providing ‘green energy’, pulling together social justice and environmental issues. The Ben Linder Foundation was one of the early Green Empowerment funders.”

For Lisa, one of the reasons Green Empowerment has such a strong rate of success when constructing renewable energy systems in developing countries is based on how the organization structures its projects. She states: “Green Empowerment developed a unique approach to poverty work in other countries, later touted by many people. This approach is from the bottom up: find local non-profits or community organizations that are willing to commit to make it happen and to figure out how to use it appropriately with their community. That’s what makes it work. Figure out the needs of the community, how they will administer it. Top down is not necessarily the way to go. If an installation is not maintained by the community, it is doomed to failure. Green Empowerment. takes the time to get to know the community. But there are problems: how do you distribute, how do you pay for it, who makes the decisions, who repairs things, necessary on-going administration.”

While Lisa has never been out in the field with Green Empowerment, both of her children had the opportunity to participate in Green Empowerment projects. “My daughter Suzanne, while still in high school, arranged to go on a field trip with Anna Garwood to Nicaragua. It was the first time she had seen abject poverty. They traveled to very remote villages.  The trip was transformational for Suzanne. She really got a sense of how it was to be in desperate poverty. She observed healthy, local men laying around, because they had nothing to do. My son spent a year in Thailand and afterwards went to observe a Green Empowerment project in Burma.”

While Lisa is leaving the Green Empowerment board, she still has hopes and dreams for the organization, specially having the “terrific Green Empowerment ‘model’ [be] better known and more widely used.”

Green Empowerment would like to thank you, Lisa, for all of the energy, time and expertise that you brought to this organization. It is because of people like you that Green Empowerment has been able to develop, grow and affect the lives of thousands of people all over the world. Thank you.

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