Global Heel Aneri Pradhan ’07 Works with Rural Ugandan Communities to Implement Sustainable Energy Solutions

February 5, 2018

Aneri Pradhan '07

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill alumna Aneri Pradhan ’07 is no stranger to living abroad. She has spent time on four continents, living in Bangladesh, Belgium, India, Uganda, England and the U.S. Inspired by her international experiences, Pradhan created ENVenture, a nonprofit organization that brings sustainable energy solutions to rural communities in Uganda.

“With the increase of globalization and technology, doing international work is so much easier than it used to be, and it’s continuing to be so,” she said. “I was interested in a career that allowed me to be more involved in global work.”

International outreach is an essential element of Pradhan’s work, and she credits UNC’s Global Studies program as instrumental to discovering her career path. As part of the curriculum, she attended a summer study abroad program at Cambridge University on international energy policy. This experience helped develop her interest in clean technology, which ultimately led her to create ENVenture.

“The Global Studies program now provides so many opportunities for students,” Pradhan said. “It becomes a lot harder to do those kinds of things later in life… college is a great time to travel and create projects.”

Pradhan graduated in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in international studies with a minor in environmental studies. Pursuing her interest in climate change, technology and international development, she went on to earn a master’s degree in environment and development at the London School of Economics and Political Science. From there, Pradhan spent two years working for various clean energy social enterprises in developing countries, and was recruited to work for the United Nations Foundation on their Sustainable Energy for All Initiative, a program designed around the concept of universal energy access. Her work on the initiative required travel to several countries in Africa, including Uganda, and involved meeting with government officials and stakeholders, local entrepreneurs and the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development.

Pradhan observed that energy access in Uganda is more than an ethics issue; problems also exist related to the business of providing energy. Most of the people in Uganda who lack access to energy live in rural areas, where it is difficult to deliver goods and obtain services. The lack of a subsidized energy grid results in energy companies fighting to stay profitable, incentivizing them to focus their efforts in urban areas.

Pradhan says that the systematic neglect of rural communities makes integrating renewable energy a challenge, and the issue of affordability requires more attention as well. Micro-solutions can reduce the need for the conventional grid. For instance, consumers can pay for solar energy in installments, or pay upfront for devices like solar lanterns, which typically sell for less than $10. Unlike a kerosene lamp, a solar lantern lights up a room at night without the risk of burning down the home.

Pradhan’s work led her to conclude that supply chains are necessary to support the transition of rural communities to sustainable energy. Further, community members and technology providers must develop mutual trust. Another important step is for the community members to gain knowledge and trust of the new technologies.

This mindset was the basis for ENVenture, an organization that informs and empowers rural entrepreneurs, enabling them to sell clean energy. Pradhan founded the nonprofit on the principles of community-led development and social entrepreneurship, striving to bring technologies to the people who need them and to help businesses operating the technologies to become self-sufficient.

“When the community is deeply involved in the planning and decision process, it leads to stronger impacts,” she said.

Pradhan supports involvement on all levels, citing youth and female participation as essential to the success of sustainable energy initiatives. It’s all about taking advantage of available opportunities—or, as in Pradhan’s case, creating her own.

By Rachel Matsumura ’19