Turning ideas into sustainable businesses in developing regions

by Rolf Huber. Published Wed 09 Sep 2015 10:49, Last updated: 2015-09-22
Award organisers expect increase in solar entries
Award organisers expect increase in solar entries

Rolf Huber, MD, the Siemens Foundation, explains how the solutions submitted to the Siemens foundation’s ‘empowering people. Award 2015’ are becoming sustainable businesses in developing regions.

The idea behind the ‘empowering people. Award’ came when we realised that there was not enough clarity about the sustainable technologies that are working and available in developing regions.

We decided to create a database of proven technology solutions, as well as an award, to generate new ideas. This gives NGOs, initiatives and other organisations delivering aid easy access to a great platform of proven innovative solutions.

Environmental performance is a prerequisite to entering the award and is one of the five criteria the entry is judged on so each application must have solid green credentials to be accepted.


Coming up with an innovative and green solution is one thing; however, implementing a solution in a developing region is the biggest challenge.

We find a lot of great technical ideas that an engineer has worked tirelessly on, but they don’t all necessarily work in practice. As well as the idea and the technology, the engineer also needs the cultural and local market knowledge to implement the solutions. To be successful, a holistic approach is needed taking into consideration the cultural fit and the business model.

As an organisation with experience and a partner network in this area, the Siemens foundation is able to help with the work that needs to be done after the technology is created. We offer training and support and stay in contact with businesses after their entry. Implementation can be a very long term process and businesses often have to be patient.

The prize money from the ‘empowering people. Award’ is designed to help with implementation and we also provide a community network of other businesses, as well as training.

Green solutions

One of the winners of the last award that was particularly successful was SOLARKIOSK. It uses solar cells to offer rural off-grid communities services, such as battery charging, communication and refrigeration. That was a start-up in 2017 and now they have established 100 solar kiosks across several African countries and they are expanding on a large scale.

It will be interesting to see if some developing countries bypass fossil fuels completely and go straight to green energy. When we held the Award in 2017 the small solar home systems were just reaching the market and now lots of people are using them instead of petroleum lamps. This means that they do not have to invest in storage tanks and petroleum and because green technologies do not depend on the huge infrastructure of other solutions they are easier to implement.

Solar potential

Solar energy use in developing countries is rapidly changing. A couple of years ago we saw many household solar solutions being introduced to the market that are now in a lot of homes in Africa. Even the lower middle classes are paying £50 for a solar system to have electricity in their homes, whereas they didn’t a couple of years ago.

Other examples of innovations that are expanding fast, in Rwanda in particular, include the Mobile Charging Kiosk which is a mobile charging point that can be attached to bicycles and mopeds. It offers a micro solution to quickly charge mobile phones for people on the go, using renewable energy technology.

The next step will be whole villages with small networks of solar powered solutions. They will benefit from access to power at a community level, and relinquish their dependency on the power stations. Change is coming fast with a lot of initiatives coming through and we expect more solar entries submitted this year.


Biogas is not growing as fast as solar but small biogas solutions are coming through and looking interesting. Innovations such as the SimGas GesiShamba rural biogas digester use manure and organic waste to produce gas for cooking, with the effluent used as a valuable fertiliser to nourish crops, which is perfect for farmers.

Succesful solutions have also been developed to transport the gas. The BioGas Backpack, a pillow shaped balloon made from flexible, gas tight material, can be filled with biogas and used to transport it to where it is needed. These are small solutions that a group of farmers can easily implement and there are plenty of others on the market like this that are waiting for the backing and recognition to implement them.


So far innovations such as the solar and biogas solutions have reached thousands. Our goal has been to reach people and solve the problems of supply in developing countries as fast as possible with the help of our growing network of partners. The whole community is growing and we organise workshops and networking events, where people with the same spirit and goals can meet to share ideas and experiences.

We believe that only green technology can work in our century and ownership must be with the people and in their neighbourhoods to develop it. In the future I see the Award continue to grow in this direction and enable people in developing countries to take their future into their own hands.

Rolf Huber is MD of the Siemens foundation. The Siemens foundation’s ‘empowering people. Award 2015’ is currently accepting low-tech, innovative entries, in eight categories that cover the main areas of basic supply in impoverished regions. Deadline for entries is November 30, 2015 at 1 pm.

Sign up to receive Search Gate's FREE weekly newsletter with a review of all the latest green news and views

Comments about Turning ideas into sustainable businesses in developing regions

There are no comments yet on Turning ideas into sustainable businesses in developing regions. Be the first to leave one, enter your thoughts below.

Post a comment

Alert me of replies

You have characters left


Latest issue of GreenWeek

Powered by SEO Rockstars
© All Rights Reserved.