Solar systems empower business
Char Montaz is an island in the southern coastal region of Bangladesh under the Galachipa upazila of Patuakhali district. Due to its geographic location, the area is at higher risks of natural calamities. Because of the dispersed nature of this area that is crisscrossed by large rivers, basic infrastructure development is not cost viable.
Land based transportation is non-existent in these regions and the only means of communication is river transportation. Furthermore, the level of salinity of the water limits agro-production yield here and fishing is the main source of earning for a population of nearly one million. As a consequence of its geographic location, the islands are beyond any long-term plan for grid electrification services.
However, things had changed for the better when a cooperative named Upokulio Biddutayan O Mohila Unnoyon Samity (UBOMUS), which stands for Coastal Electrification and Women’s Development Cooperative, started its activities at Char Montaz in 1999.
The cooperative was established under a project, Opportunity for Women in Renewable Energy Technology Utilisation in Bangladesh and conceptualised and implemented by Prokaushali Sangsad Ltd (PSL). World Bank funded this project under the Energy Sector Management Assistance Programme.
UBOMUS, registered under the women and children’s affairs ministry, has 35 members, all of whom are underprivileged. Women now change their fates through the cooperative.
Asma Huque, managing director of PSL, said the main goal of the organisation is empowerment of poor women through technology transfer and improvement of the quality of their lives in the community through energy service delivery.
“Typically, rural women are left out of mainstream services. UBOMUS aims at eradicating this, while providing solutions with clean energy for lighting,” she added.
According to Huque, the vision is to demonstrate the potential of rural women with small business development.
Capacity building in technical and business skills has resulted in women’s empowerment from this economically underdeveloped area, which was apparent in the case of UBOMUS, she said.
Runu Begum, president of UBOMUS, said her life has drastically changed after joining the cooperative.
“Previously, I had a monthly income of only Tk 3,000. But now, I earn around Tk 30,000 from my business that was developed by the income from the cooperatives,” she said.
Begum said she currently has one cloth store and one photo studio at Char Montaz in her own building.
The cooperative has been carrying out its solar programme since 2003 and has already installed more than 14,800 solar systems. It produces high quality lighting products, which have been in use in the surrounding areas for the last 5 years.
Since early 2003, UBOMUS is assembling solar charge controllers of international standards for the local and national market.
According to experts, these controllers extend the useful life of the batteries by more than 20 percent in comparison to the other controllers available in the local market.