WR6: Southeast Asia Media Dialogue: Seoul Workshop Report

More than one billion people in the world still do not have electricity. Over three billion cook on dirty, inefficient and harmful stoves and four million people die prematurely each year as a result. The UN’s Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) initiative aims to achieve universal access to modern energy services by 2030. The Smart Villages Initiative aims to contribute to meeting this goal by providing an insightful ‘view from the front line’ of the challenges of village energy provision for development and how they can be overcome.

Smart villages are proposed as a rural analogue to smart cities that will shift the balance of opportunities between cities and villages. While we may expect that their particular features will be context specific, common features will include access to good education and healthcare, better opportunities to earn a living, greater participation in governance processes, and more resilient communities. All these development benefits are enabled by energy access together with modern information and communication technologies.

The Smart Villages Initiative is evaluating the barriers to energy access in rural communities in developing countries and how those barriers can be overcome. Its focus is off-grid villages, where local solutions (home- or institution-based systems, and mini-grids) are cheaper than national grid extension. Its aim is to generate new insights to inform the decisions and programmes of policy makers, donors and development agencies concerned with rural energy access for development.

As an integral part of that activity the Smart Villages Initiative aims 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 policy makers, funders, entrepreneurs, civil society and the general public, including potential smart villagers themselves—will be made aware of the potential of off-grid rural energy provision, and provided 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 themselves 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 which apply in their region. In this manner we hope to encourage a greater focus on this complex area, which necessarily involves elements of technology, business, politics and rural development at the same time. An area which—despite its importance in terms of the magnitude of the affected populations—has hitherto not been a mainstream media priority.

This approach derives, in part, from the successful Biosciences for Farming in America project (b4fa.org), funded by the John Templeton Foundation, which worked with local media organisations in Africa to encourage high-quality reporting of scientific and technical development issues through a combination of dialogue workshops, field trips and networking within the research community.

This second workshop was planned over two days in June 2015 in Seoul, Republic of Korea to coincide with the city hosting the World Conference of Science Journalists (WCSJ). It featured a mixture of background briefings and case studies by local and international technical experts. The programme also included interactive discussions and professional development exercises, facilitated by independent media trainers and mentors. The workshop went on to feature case studies of prototype smart villages and innovative renewable energy use by several of the participating journalists.

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