A major objective of the Smart Villages Initiative is to raise public awareness of rural energy access issues, sustainable energy technologies, and entrepreneurial approaches to energy in the developing world. To help meet this goal, we seek to promote objective, informed, and balanced coverage of the issues, challenges, and opportunities through media dialogue events in both local and international media. In this way we hope the main stakeholders—including policymakers, funders, entrepreneurs, civil society, and the general public, including potential smart villagers themselves—can be made aware of the potential of off-grid rural energy provision. We also provide them with appropriate information to permit informed discussion of the issue. We are targeting high-profile international media outlets as well as the mainstream media organisations in countries where rural energy access is important.
By holding these regional media dialogue events, we hope to gain insights from local journalists as well as introducing or updating them with some of the latest technological innovations in the area, together with the regulatory, finance and entrepreneurship/ business challenges and opportunities that apply in their region. In this manner we hope to encourage a greater focus on this complex area that involves technology, business, politics and rural development. Despite its importance in terms of the magnitude of the affected populations, rural energy access has hitherto not been a mainstream media priority.
This fourth workshop took place over the course of two days – July 9-11, 2016 – in Asuncion, Paraguay following the commencement of Smart Village’s Latin American programme of activities. It featured a mixture of background briefings and case studies by local and international technical experts and practitioners identified through our partners Practical Action and the World Bank, discussions on issues arising and case studies of prototype smart villages and innovative renewable energy use by the participating journalists.
Asuncion was chosen as the venue as part of an overall initiative strategy to hold events in as many locations as possible and to enable participation from across the continent. In our selection process we sought to identify editors and senior journalists from countries in the region—Bolivia, Peru,Venezuela, Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Columbia and Ecuador—who would take an interest in both energy provision and Smart Villages. We selected print, broadcast, and new media journalists who showed an interest in energy, science, and technology, environmental, or development reporting. In addition to SciDev.Net and The Guardian, we took recommendations from local partner organisations in the countries and researched the published portfolios of the candidates.
Interest was high, and we invited 17 journalists from Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, Venezuela and Paraguay as well as two U.S.- and UK-based freelance journalists covering Latin America. All participated. The Smart Villages Initiative provided travel, accommodation, and expenses for those who participated.
The workshop can be considered a success for one particular reason. The majority of the journalists were unaware prior to the event of the existence of any problem with energy access for rural populations, let alone its extent and possible solutions. Indeed many were sceptical as to the relevance of the topic. Over the two days, their opinions changed fundamentally and interest grew as they responded to the balance of factual presentations and individual case studies. By the conclusion there was general agreement that off-grid rural electrification and the concept of “smart villages” was relevant and merited further investigation and coverage. This applied not only to the obvious regions such as Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, but also Chile, Argentina, and Brazil.