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Image courtesy of SolarBuddy

Collaborating to transform solar lighting solutions

SolarBuddy is a global impact organization working to bring simple solar lighting solutions to children and families living in energy poverty. Autodesk facilitated software donations, volunteer efforts, and technical expertise enabling SolarBuddy to scale solar lighting solutions worldwide, while creating awareness around energy poverty.

SolarBuddy’s quest to end energy poverty

About 1 in 10 people around the world live in energy poverty, with little or no access to grid electricity. Families often rely on expensive and harmful forms of fuel like kerosene, while children struggle to study in the evening with low light, both of which feed existing cycles of poverty.

SolarBuddy builds awareness through corporate engagements where employees assemble modular lights for SolarBuddy partner communities. With Autodesk, this opened the door to technology donations, technical expertise, and pro bono consulting to help SolarBuddy grow awareness about energy poverty and scale solar lighting solutions in communities facing energy poverty.

Three students reading while using SolarBuddy lights

Image courtesy of SolarBuddy

Volunteering opens the door

SolarBuddy first engaged with Autodesk during Autodesk’s 2019 Global Month of Impact.

Autodesk employees from 30 offices around the world volunteered to assemble 3,300 solar lights, helping to brighten the lives of 16,500 children and their families in Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu, while learning about energy poverty. Autodesk’s donation to SolarBuddy for each solar light, $150,000+ in total, meant each volunteer gifted the solar light they assembled to a child living in energy poverty.

Through this initial engagement, leaders from both organizations felt an alignment of values and strong potential to continue collaborating. “There's a real belief on both sides that sustainable innovation can change the world”, says Joanna Cantwell, Director of Stakeholder Engagement, SolarBuddy.

Autodesk employees holding up SolarBuddy lights

Technology to create energy access

Through Autodesk’s Technology Impact Program, SolarBuddy has received more than $66,000 in donated software from the Architecture Engineering & Construction, Product Design & Manufacturing, and Media & Entertainment Collections. SolarBuddy uses Autodesk software to develop new and innovative products for communities living in energy poverty, like JuniorBuddy, StudentBuddy, and FamilyBuddy.

“Autodesk software has enabled us to work incredibly effectively with highly skilled people from all over the world.”

Joanna Cantwell, Director of Stakeholder Engagement, SolarBuddy

Pairing talent with needs

As a lean, impact focused organization, SolarBuddy must use time and energy wisely, which is critical when they consider volunteer, intern, and pro bono engagements. "Working with the right people is incredibly effective, it opens enormous opportunity to empower others whilst ensuring we have specialist resources when we need them. It's a real win-win!" says Joanna.

Through the Autodesk Foundation’s Pro Bono Portal, Joanna can quickly see skills and availability of Autodesk’s pro bono global workforce, before writing a full proposal. This is how she was paired with Sylvie Boenke-Bowden, a senior software engineer at Autodesk who is writing code for a SolarBuddy digital gift card.

Sylvie’s expertise in Java, React, and third-party API systems has led to immediate results. She says working with SolarBuddy “helps me see the real-world effects my contributions can have...and being able to see the customer’s (Joanna’s) reaction to each change I make is very satisfying.”

Technical expertise brings new ideas to life

Many of the communities that collaborate with SolarBuddy rely on kerosene, wood, or coal burning cook stoves. These are incredibly harmful to human health and release toxic emissions, including CO2 and black carbon. SolarBuddy understood the critical need to make a change and devise a solution, but they needed the expertise of an electrical engineer to kick off product design.

As part of the Technology Impact Program, SolarBuddy has access to the Autodesk Foundation’s Impact Internship with Engineering for Change, and was matched with electrical engineer, Brandon Simons. After researching market trends and the needs of SolarBuddy partner communities in Madagascar, Brandon started modeling energy-efficient and user-friendly stoves using Fusion 360.

“Fusion 360’s render capability has been great for understanding how everything would fit together,” he says. Supported by a global cohort of Impact interns and learning modules on Autodesk software, Brandon is helping SolarBuddy turn its vision for cooking with renewable energy in energy-poor regions into a reality.

Kids learning in a classroom

Image courtesy of SolarBuddy

Carrying the work forward

Approximately 3 billion people still live without access to modern energy, leaving them unable to cook or safely and hygienically store their food. The cumulative negative impacts on people and the climate are immense. At Autodesk University 2021, Simon Doble, SolarBuddy's Founder and Global CEO, presented how a suite of sustainable innovations can help lift families out of extreme energy poverty.

Two people holding solar powered technology

Image courtesy of SolarBuddy