From fashion to action: Project Tsehigh’s Grace Mahary

Thursday June 15th, 2017 - Smart Villages

Interview with Grace Mahary

Founder, Project Tsehigh

Location: New York City / Eritrea

“I am black, grew up an athlete and saw a disparity in energy in parts of the world.”

Canadian model and activist Grace Mahary has worked on making fashion more inclusive. She has spoken out on Black Lives Matter, on diversity in sports, as a former athlete herself, and is working on improving solar energy access in East Africa. Her first mission is to equip 100 households in the town of Maaya, Eritrea with solar panels and accessories, a goal which she proudly says will be reached by the end of 2017, after a year of busy fundraising.

The key for Mahary was to identifiy the most simple and effective solutions for families. Founded in NYC in 2015,  Project Tsehigh (PjT) promotes renewable energy, raising money to donate SB-5 solar panels with a battery and three light to one rural community at a time. “We must look after the welfare of all human beings,” she says over email. “With many households living off of the electric grid in East Africa, there are children who have to brush their teeth in darkness or do their homework only by candlelight. It’s easy for us to take electricity for granted as it is easily accessible. In my vision, the whole of Africa would be covered and have access to clean energy.”

The non-profit, which is in its start-up phase, has impacted 100 households in Eritrea, where 70% live off the grid, and is where her family are originally from. “Tsehigh (‘see-hai’) means “sun” in the Eritrean language of Tigrinya,” she explains. “It’s also my father name. We are a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing sustainable and renewable energy solutions for communities around the world with limited access to clean energy. Our vision is a world with clean energy accessible to all.”

Across Africa, almost two-thirds of the population do not have access to energy; East Africa has been described by Rachel Kyte as the ‘petri dish for new business models trying to provide access to energy. It’s a long way from walking in shows for Victoria’s Secret, Givenchy, Balmain and others, although Mahary can count on the support of her peers; she says the support and interest has been “overwhelming”. “If we keep working towards our goals with open minds, we can utilize all of the opportunities coming at us. Our first two fundraising events are examples. We didn’t plan on SoulCycle and Tantris, Russell Simmons’ yoga studio, being the first supporters, but they welcomed us with open arms, and we are thrilled.”

As a smart village, the lives of women and children in Maaya should be impacted particularly in enabling ease of home cooking, doing homework and doing house work under an operating light. Mahary adds that working with local companies and staff in the communities served is an “integral component” to Project Tsehigh. “In this way, and by training citizens on how to use renewable energy, we seek to mobilize these communities. Our goal is to create an infrastructure that will encourage independence and sustainability.”

Photo courtesy of Project Tsehigh

Photo courtesy of Project Tsehigh

Mahary says she has earned the most from observing other organizations that she admires, especially ones that I’ve supported in the past. “The beauty of starting and exploring a new project is that you might find people working in that industry who you already know! A friend who I went to university with is an engineer and happened to start his own solar energy company (Goldfield Solar) in Barbados.” As for challenges, she does not believe she has faced anything which other haven’t. “I’ve come across with my team are common for all startup organizations, like finding our network, forming our identity and turning our visions into reality. We’re currently looking for passionate individuals to help aid our mission.”

According to one report, Project Tsehigh aims to raise $20,000, and expand to schools, hospitals and farms – as Mahary puts it, one community at a time. “I believe everyone has a story, and I like to stand up for each piece of mine — I am black, grew up an athlete and saw a disparity in energy in parts of the world,” she says. “Having freedom fighter parents also helps. I inherited a passion for fighting for what you believe in. My advice to anyone that wants to make an impact on anything is to discipline and commit yourself to working everyday towards your goal. I may be traveling for jobs, but I’ll use the flight time to plan and create more of my vision for Project Tsehigh.”

–Nabeelah Shabbir, @lahnabee