Rarely does one read about a private utility’s successful program to provide electricity to the urban poor. Rarer still is when the program is a profit-making venture and can serve as a learning experience for other countries around the world. But an Indian private utility, Tata Power Delhi Distribution Limited, in New Delhi, has been successful in providing electricity to 217 slums—with 175,000 customers—by engaging with the community. It has reduced non-technical losses and improved its revenues from $0.3 million to $17.5 million over the last five years.
As part of an initiative by the World Bank’s Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP) on expanding electricity access to the urban poor, there have been many knowledge exchanges between Brazil, Colombia, Kenya and Jamaica to learn from each other’s experiences and implement best practices. Recently, ESMAP’s team along with delegations from Jamaica and Kenya, visited Tata’s project in India to understand the reason behind their success.
A boat trip from Port Elizabeth to Kingstown, in the Caribbean country of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, is a one-hour trip that locals take several times a day. It was during one of these journeys that the boat of Kamara Jerome, a young Vincentian fisherman, ran out of gas six miles from Bequia City in what is termed locally as the "Bequia Channel." While waiting for help with strong wind gusts and the sun on his head, the idea of developing a boat that would run with wind and solar energy was born. Soon after, the idea became a prototype; a boat using green technology was on the water making 20-year-old Jerome a winner of international innovation competitions and a role model to other Caribbean youth.
In Mexico, young engineer Daniel Gomez runs a multimillion bio-diesel company originally conceived as a research project for his high school chemistry class. Gomez and his partners - Guillermo Colunga, Antonio Lopez, and Mauricio Pareja - founded SOLBEN (Solutions in bio-energy in Spanish) in their early twenties.
Although Daniel and Kamara have different educational backgrounds, they do share one important skill, the ability to identify a problem, develop an innovative solution, and take it to the market. In other words, being an entrepreneur, an alternative to be economically active, that seems to work and not only for a few.
The other day I had the opportunity to participate in the annual CAF conference on Infrastructure, this time held in Mexico City. The conference featured CAF's new IDEAL report on the state of infrastructure in Latin America and the conference, attended by many decision and opinion makers from across LAC, was organized around findings of the report.
I had a few takeaways from the discussions, notably that (1) there is convergence on a range of key issues and (2) there are some important Bank messages that are unique:
Prior to about 2005, for many tourists their Jamaican vacation was ruined at the last minute, by the hot and overcrowded conditions inside Montego Bay’s Sangster International Airport. Fast forward 10 years, and waiting for a flight at Sangster is an altogether more pleasant experience. The air conditioning actually works, and the whole environment is infinitely less stress-inducing than before.
What’s the difference? The private sector.
In 2003, the Government of Jamaica finally succeeded in doing what it had been trying to do for a decade: privatize Montego Bay Airport. A private sector consortium, led by Vancouver International Airport, quickly invested millions of dollars in expanding the terminal building, doubling the airport’s capacity and opening dozens of new retail spaces. Since then, the consortium has invested more than US$200 million on expansions and improvements to the airport, all of which has been entirely off the government’s balance sheet.
Jamaica has gone on to implement several more public-private partnerships (PPPs), with mixed results. The second phase of its ambitious highway construction program — the Mount Rosser Bypass — was recently opened, cutting a swath through miles of virgin territory. However, early indications are that traffic levels are not living up to expectations, probably due to the Bypass’ steep eight percent gradient, which is beyond the means of most Jamaican trucks and buses.
In the energy sector, Jamaica is completing three PPPs with a total of 115 megawatts of renewable energy (RE) capacity, putting the country on track to meet its RE target of 12.5 percent of generating capacity by the end of 2015. Lastly, the government is currently completing formalities for the sale of Kingston Container Terminal (KCT) to a consortium of CMA/CGM and China Merchant Marine, a transaction that is expected to result in a US$600 million capital expenditure program by the port’s new owners.
After managing businesses in television and tourism, Shirley Lindo returned to Jamaica with a desire to create a community-enriching enterprise. As the daughter of a St. Ann farmer, she chose natural products, free of additives, that could be grown on her "Outa Earth" plot in the old Bernard Lodge sugar lands.
Since castor beans grow fairly easily on Jamaica’s plains, she settled on the production of castor oil, a versatile commodity valued as a food additive, manufacturing element, cosmetic ingredient and healing agent. As a testament to the oil’s quality, it has won blue ribbons at the Denbigh Agricultural show, Jamaica’s largest, three years running.
Shirley discovered, after a few years of producing the oil using a laborious traditional process and selling to local and American customers, that her product generated large quantities of waste. Rising everywhere were piles of bean shells and leftover bean pulp, plus the leftover trash from another crop, the moringa seeds that were becoming a popular health food on the island.
After doing some research on uses for these agricultural byproducts, Shirley applied for a grant to use them to develop a sustainable soil conditioner and low-smoke briquettes.
From 300 entrants, Shirley was one of 11 winners selected from across the CARICOM (Caribbean Community and Common Market) region, and one of four women in that group. Her initial progress was slow, as she grappled with the cost of scaling up castor oil production in order to create the critical mass required for producing the newer products more efficiently.
On International Children’s Day, we reflect on the kind of world our children will inherit. To prosper in a rapidly changing world, all children need more than basic literacy and numeracy. They need to be creative, critical thinkers and problem-solvers. Early childhood development can help level the playing field from the early stages of life.
How did a new training college in Jamaica win a Caribbean-wide award that recognizes the best innovations for solving complex problems?
Jamaica’s National College for Education Leadership (NCEL) was just established in 2011 but it has already bagged a Bright Spot Award in innovations by the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development.
Why are petroleum prices dropping so fast anyway? Have they reached rock bottom yet? Should we be worried if they continue to fall? These are questions that probably every finance minister in either oil-rich or oil importing nations is trying to answer.
Latin America has a long, fractured, and ultimately failed history of public media. So-called “public media” typically functioned as government-controlled institutions for spurious goals - propaganda and clientelism - rather than quality content in the service of multiple public interests.