The Malaysian Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation Datuk Dr Ewon Ebin endorsed the Smart Village project at its official launch in Kuching this week. The event coincided with a three day off-grid energy workshop hosted jointly by the University Malaysia Sarawak and the Academy of Sciences Malaysia.
Speaking at the launch, the minister asserted that, “sustainable development isn’t an indulgence but can be a precursor for success.” Professor Sir Brain Heap – scientific advisor to the project – praised Malaysia for being “long ahead of the game” when it came to inclusive development. He also sought to flesh out his vision of a smart villages as a community empowered by energy access to manage their own development and promote well-being.
Around 80 participants from across South East Asia and as far afield as Tanzania and Canada spent three intensive days discussing the cultural, financial and technical challenges of providing energy to some 140 million people in the region who still live without access to electricity.
Attendees included researchers, representatives from the public and private energy sector and practitioners from NGOs working directly with rural communities. The wide range of stakeholders was intended to encourage valuable information exchange and link the strategic challenge with the accumulated expertise of practitioners working with remote communities.
Success stories were tempered by speakers who spelled out the enormous challenges of working in difficult environments such as Myanmar. Participants were particularly keen to stress the importance of cultural sensitivity and commitments to tailor projects to the needs of individual communities. There were also calls for more data and the development of rigorous metrics to properly assess the outcomes of projects.
The workshop concluded by asking how best to encourage synergy between technology providers, governments and NGOs across the ASEAN region. To this end, Smart Villages will be conducting a number of follow on activities in South East Asia over the coming months.