Projectitis is curable

Those organizations who are concerned with solar energy in developing countries, both state and non-state aid organizations, usually work on a project basis. Isolated projects are planned, money is announced and awarded, and projects realized, and ultimately celebrated as successes in press releases. 
Most probably, the project team has even worked with great dedication and did a good job but what is the situation just one year after the conclusion of many solar projects? Do the systems still work? Does the project trigger social or economic development? Was it possible to initiate local solar businesses that work long-term for solar energy and are increasingly independent of subsidies? 
Often, precisely the opposite is the case: it is not possible to establish a viable and sustainable infrastructure, for instance a robust business model. This has dire consequences: much money is burned. Committed people are left frustrated behind. And the wheel has to be reinvented all over again.
Of course, from a budgetary point of view, projects have a great advantage for financial backers: they are limited in terms of time and location, their content is manageable, they do not demand commitment to longer term engagement, and therefore do not place a permanent burden on budgets. Projects can be planned well and documented quickly in a way that creates effective public exposure.
However, by now it should be clear that this method does not allow for the development of permanent solutions to rural energy problems. The situation must be thought through anew! It is not possible that most money issued is project-related. We have to begin to think more on a long-term basis and in a business-like way: also as private and state aid organizations, non-profit and for-profit oriented.
Nevertheless, those who pursue this approach must learn to deal with two things. For one, long-term development cannot be planned. Obstacles constantly arise that make short-term changes necessary. Flexibility is a key requirement, as is the ability to deal with things that cannot be planned. For another, one has to be prepared for a long and often difficult path that is far less effective in terms of public exposure than the realization of an isolated project. 
The fundamental difference of course is that projects have a clear definite end. Corporate and social development in contrast does not have, once triggered, a defined and previously schedulable end.
A successful example of a process and development thinking in the solar off-grid electrification was provided of all organizations by the World Bank. In Bangladesh, the World Bank has not implemented selective short-term projects, but it has very successfully over 10 years initiated an entrepreneurial and economic development in the long term. With resounding success: today, Bangladesh has a local solar industry and is the world’s leading country in the off-grid electrification.
Thus Bangladesh provides impressive evidence: Projectitis is curable!

Harald Schützeichel is Founder/Director of Stiftung Solarenergie – Solar Energy Foundation and Founder/CEO of SunTransfer. 

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