Blog of Lorin Symington starting in the Philippines

Posted Tuesday 19 March 2019 by Lorin Symington.

I’m extremely excited to be travelling to the Philippines to work with our new client and partner, CarbonCycle. I’ve never been anywhere in Asia and to be able to travel to such a tropical paradise and leave behind the -15C depths of Canadian winter makes this trip extra special.

I’ve rented a motorbike and I managed to get in a little beach time shortly after my arrival:

The people of the Philippines have been very welcoming so far, and everyone seems to be smiling. I’m starting to pick up the occasional word in Tagalog and Bisaya but fortunately most people speak at least some English.

Back in the workshop, we’re already hard at work fabricating the SOL5’s in on the outskirts of Cagayan de Oro in Mindanao Province:

From left to right, yours truly, Lucio, Albert, Marvin and Willy.

In the next few days I’m going to visit the end user communities and cooperatives to meet the teams and take some measurements to fine tune our solutions.

"I’m enjoying being in business and I believe I’ll prosper"

Posted Monday 4 March 2019 by Lorin Symington.

Meet Janet from SmartUp Factory Gulu Hub in Uganda. Janet was one of the most energetic participants of our solar entrepreneurship education package, always asking questions and clarifying, volunteering and speaking up.

She took special interest in book keeping and went on to become the groups accountant because before the 2 week training was over, they were already selling goods, buying ingredients and handling money.

GoSol Solar Training Highlights

Posted Tuesday 12 February 2019 by Lorin Symington.

We’re happy to share with you this video which shows some great moments from the Solar Entrepreneurship Training we conducted in Uganda with Plan International (Uganda) and SmartUp Factory Uganda.

During this course we taught these young Ugandans about solar science, baking, design thinking, entrepreneurship skills and how to install and maintain the SOL5 solar concentrator.

This program is particularly powerful because it comes with everything needed for the participants to learn new skills and have a green job at the end of it. Most of the participants have never run a business before, and now they are gaining real world experience as well as real income.

Our new solar entrepreneurs are battling climate change as well as providing an income for themselves while minimizing the environmental impact of doing business. In many African nations, charcoal and firewood are the primary source of thermal energy for small businesses, and our solution allows micro and small businesses to save money while allowing the forests to grow in peace.

We ran two groups of twelve students through the training program; 12 students in Tororo and 12 students in Gulu are now able to build their entrepreneurship skills and increase awareness of sustainable energy.

7 Sustainable Development Goals made real for Eva Nangira, a young solar entrepreneur in Uganda

Posted Thursday 20 December 2018 by Lorin Symington.

We’d like to introduce you to Eva Nangira, one of the youth mentors at the SmartUp Factory Tororo Hub. Eva is a very attentive student and really grasps the significance of our SOL5 oven. In this short video, she describes the impact that the SOL5 oven is having on her life.

Eva focuses on the impact that this business will have on her and the other young women being trained. Women in Uganda face serious challenges when they enter the workforce and it is our hope that along with SmartUp Factory and Plan International, we can empower many more women to become sustainable self employed.

It’s very clear that when you want to do things, you have positivity and an entrepreneurial mindset, the access to energy, to a clean and powerful energy source, is really key. We are so grateful because thanks to entrepreneurs like Eva and all the groups from Kenya and Tanzania, we are proving that there is an appropriate clean energy solution for all these people that are not in developed economies. It is more or less expected that developing countries will develop and grow like Western countries have, but here at we believe that solutions must be adapted to their reality, and their reality is: tons of sun that they can harvest to be free from fossil fuels and reduce deforestation.

SOL5 replaces fire wood, charcoal, LPG and poor electric grids to power activities during all the sunny season. During the rainy season, the entrepreneurs have to use a mix which is fine because they made savings the rest of the year and they can afford it.


The Sustainable Development Goals

Solar thermal energy is accessible for all and once widely implemented, will have dramatic and far reaching effects on our world. The Sustainable Development Goals have been established by the UN for the 2030 Agenda. The 17 SDG’s are the pillars of a new society, based on sustainable development for all.

Our Concentrated Solar Power solution is directly impacting 7 of these goals and affects some others.

Goal 1 End Poverty ​Universal access to solar thermal energy will create new economic opportunities for millions of people in food processing. Energy plays a key role in breaking the poverty trap; when people use clean solar energy that is locally built they can process food and create products with added value.

Goal 5 ​Gender Equality ​By empowering women and girls with access to free, clean solar energy, they have more time to go to school and engage in meaningful income generating activities instead of chopping wood. They’ll also benefit from better health due to reduced exposure to toxic smoke.

Goal 7 Affordable and Clean Energy ​Solar energy is one of the cleanest and most cost effective sources of energy. GoSol solar thermal technology has a return on investment of 18 months.

Goal 8 Decent Work and Economic Growth ​GoSol technology promotes decent work conditions due to the elimination of harmful pollution from burning biomass and enhances economic growth by balancing fossil fuel driven trade deficits while reducing the wasted labour represented by biomass collection and burning.

Goal 10 Reduce Inequalities ​Sunshine is distributed more equally than many other sources of energy. By enhancing distributed access to clean, free solar energy at all levels of society from smallholder farmers to industry, GoSol technology is reducing the inequalities inherent in centralized energy systems.

Goal 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities ​Cities and communities are only as sustainable as the energy upon which they are based. By enhancing access to renewable and clean solar thermal energy, GoSol technology is ensuring communities can thrive long term.

Goal 13 Climate Action ​Solar thermal technology reduces deforestation, particulate pollution and the emission of greenhouse gases. GoSol’s solar thermal technology can be implemented globally to make an impact within the 12 years limit set by the most recent IPCC report.

Recently the International Panel on Climate Change has called for sweeping changes to society in order to minimize the damage of climate change and GoSol technology can play a big role in that.

Our budding entrepreneurs in Uganda have a lot to say and we’ll be sharing more of their stories and perspectives in the coming weeks, stay tuned.

Uganda: Follow-Up and Follow-Through

Posted Friday 26 October 2018 by Lorin Symington.

I’m following up & following through with our young solar powered entrepreneurs at the SmartUp Factory Tororo Hub. I’ve been receiving small reports and hearing from Plan Uganda and SmartUp staff that our trainees have been baking, making sales and getting paid! They’ve even taken to social media bragging about their new jobs. I was really excited to get back and see how they’ve been moving along.

When I arrived I was pleased to see the SOL5 in it’s new home, a fenced enclosure, looking shiny and well calibrated. That was one of the challenges the trainees were to face after I left. The SOL5 is located in a semi public place, near a main road and next to a youth center, where many young folks hang out, play football etc, so it was important to protect it. When I asked Augustin, one of the trainees and a senior mentor at Hub, how did the moving go he said “Very well, though it was a bit tricky… before they finished the fence, we carried the whole thing over, no dismantling!”

The SmartUp members were excited to hear about the Gulu training, I passed along greetings from their friends in Gulu and then we got down to business: I asked them to report their successes, challenges, lessons learned and plans for the future. As for successes, their accounting books show that they’ve all earned money and grown their stock of inventory since I left! I call that an unmitigated success.

Challenges & Solutions

At first, it seemed that other than the weather, things had been going very smoothly… too smoothly, I thought to myself. Once I got the students to open up about the challenges they had faced, the challenges just kept emerging:

Challenge #1: It’s still the rainy season up until November, so they are reporting that they haven’t been able to meet all the demand for their products, and they have had some products bake incompletely, resulting in losses.
Solution #1: Partner with a local baker and rent time in their oven or save up for a charcoal oven to be used during the rainy seasons.

Challenge #2: At first, clients complained about the quality of icing decoration.
Solution #2: The students did research about how to make better icing, and I bought them an icing dispenser with different shaped nozzles for flowers and ribbons etc.

Challenge #3: George, the Marketing Director, did a survey to find out how people viewed their products and found that their initial branding contained too much information so people didn’t bother to read it. Their packaging is also hard to find sometimes in Tororo and expensive.
Solution #3: They are redesigning their branding and moving to smaller, cheaper stickers. During my time in Kampala I will try to locate a reliable supplier of packaging materials (I hear this is also desired by Gulu Hub)

Challenge #4: The bread molds and cupcake molds that we had fabricated in Kenya are not the same size as the ones used here in Uganda, so this is an obstacle for pricing their goods and selling to shops who are accustomed to certain products.
Solution #4: Save for new molds built locally, to local specifications.

Challenge #5: There is need for a bread slicer. While bread is the least profitable of the items they prepare, it is still something that is good for earning since the demand is always high. Bread sold in the shops always comes pre-sliced.
Solution #5: Plan Uganda and GoSol are investigating bread slicing machines. Should they prove very expensive I have in mind a relatively cheap manual design I might have fabricated for the students.

Challenge #6: Shops have complained that the bread goes mouldy after a week.
Solution #6: Use preservatives. I’m not very happy about this solution… I normally try to avoid preservatives, but here in Uganda, essentially all packaged food has preservatives in it. I tried to make the case for selling bread for immediate consumption, and the students countered that they can’t plan for such at the moment because they can’t produce in cloudy weather. Perhaps when they have saved up for and bought a charcoal oven, they can get contracts with schools and other institutions to provide fresh bread daily. For now, they can sell to shops, and the shops demand preservatives.

Challenge #7: This was the big one. It’s rainy season and that means unpredictable weather. One of the girls nearly left the business after she had baked for 2 hours each day, earning a small but important amount of money, but then on Friday she tried to bake, the clouds came and ruined the bake and the loss of those ingredients cancelled out her earnings for the week. She was making the case that the individual baker should not have to pay for losses, that the business should pay for the loss. Immediately the group began arguing. It’s clear that they had had these discussions before.
Solution #7: The production manager is responsible for making decisions about whether to bake or not. If a baker proposes to bake, and the production manager agrees but it goes from blue skies to clouds while the bread is still proving, the business takes the loss. If a baker proposes to bake and the production manager says no, but the baker proceeds to bake anyway, the baker is individually responsible and the losses come out of his or her wages. This solution seemed to satisfy everyone.

As you can see, the students solved some challenges themselves, demonstrating dynamic thinking and real entrepreneurial motivation. Other problems they need some help with, but considering their business is getting started during the worst time of year, weather wise, I think they are doing marvellously well. In fact, December-January is going to be a big season for them as they are the sunniest months of the year, and with the holidays, marriages and graduations going on, our entrepreneurs are confident that they’re going to be pulling in piles of cash. By then, they’ll have these small challenges solved and be ready for the peak season.

My next stop is Kampala, the capital, where I’ll meet visit the original SmartUp Hub, explore solutions to these challenges for our pioneering solar bakers and explore options for fabricating the SOL5 locally because already demand is growing strong.

Second Training in Uganda Completed!

Posted Wednesday 10 October 2018 by Lorin Symington.

I’m happy to report that there is a new solar powered bakery business operating in Gulu, Uganda! Our two-week training course in cooperation with Plan International and SmartUp Factory Gulu Hub finished with a great launch event where the young entrepreneurs promoted their bakery cooperative and got a chance to gain publicity, attract new clients and make sales to finance the next production runs! Here are few of the training highlights from Gulu.

These are the first solar baked loafs of bread baked by our entrepreneurs in training. Entrepreneur Lydia's face speaks for itself!


The Entrepeneurship "Aha" Moment
There’s a key moment in our training course when the students make their first sale. After a week of education and training in operation, maintenance, science, business and bakery skills the students were able to bake good quality breads, cakes and cookies, present and package them for sale - and when they make their first sale, entrepreneurship becomes so much more real!

Part of our training aims to foster what we call "entrepreneurship awareness" - the kind of mindset you need to make a business a success. When you start a business, you can’t be in a passive 9 to 5 attitude, you need to be proactive. When you make 10 sales on day 1, you need to ask yourself if you can make 20 the next. Once you know how to make breads, why not explore more advanced pastries? Can I expand my business by having a stock of cookies that last longer, in case we run out of bread? How do we satisfy - or even better - delight our customers? Just some examples, but what’s key is instilling in the students the actual entrepreneurial thinking process and a proactive attitude - so that they become independent thinkers, independent entrepreneurs.

A single day of baked goods minus about 30% of sweet and sourdough bread, cakes and cookies that got eaten before the picture was taken.
Students paying attention to detail while measuring ingredients. It's important to train accurate measuring for consistent results.

After making the first sale is a great time to revisit ’roles and responsibilities’ within the business. Even before I got there the students, with support from the SmartUp Hub, organized themselves into a cooperative business, agreeing on principles. I took them into the class and facilitated a group discussion. 20 minutes into the discussion the class stopped speaking politely in English and started discussing heatedly among themselves in their native tongue. From time to time I asked them to summarize, and it was great to see them discuss the roles and responsibilities and give each other feedback on how to improve the work. Listening to them self-organizing felt very powerful. I felt they’re in, they’re on board and I knew from that moment that they will succeed!


It’s Showtime!
Soon enough it was time for showcase! SmartUp Factory Gulu Hub invited local dignitaries, journalists and NGO representatives, and the students were at their best! Though the day started off cloudy, as often happens this time of year, the skies cleared in time to bake cookies and show the power of the SOL5! Attendees got to hear about the training from Plan representatives, SmartUp representatives and from me; I described the entrepreneurship training, the practical components of the training and gave an overview of the Direct Solar Economy and the impact this new wave of solar entrepreneurship can have on people, the environment and the planet.
In the days after the showcase I mentored the cooperative business and provided deeper sessions for subgroups of the students, I’ll be sharing more about this process in a subsequent post. Meanwhile the entrepreneurs continued to do business and showed a great communication culture for calling out inefficiencies and agreeing on better workflows. The entrepreneur mindset at work!

Eager customers, eager sellers and a beautiful variety of products on showcase day.
The students decorated their SOL5 in anticipation of a great showcase day attracting many people.
Program Area Coordinator for Plan International Uganda's Lira office Collin Mutinda gave an overview of Plan's activities.
Meanwhile, sourdough is rising under the tea towels, ready to be baked and sold during the showcase.
Bright faces, bright future: The launch Day, as well as the training as a whole, was a complete success!


Moving on
This brings to an end the second training course GoSol did in Uganda. Over the coming weeks it will be very interesting to follow the young entrepreneurs and see how far they will take their solar business after the training. Next week I hope to circle back to Tororo, where SmartUp Factory Tororo Hub reports the group I trained is in full swing, so stay tuned for more updates!

Let there be Solar Fire!

Posted Tuesday 25 September 2018 by Lorin Symington.

I’m now well into the training here in Gulu, Uganda, training entrepreneur students from the Smart Up program set by Plan International. The students have truly experienced the Solar Fire.

Sharon, who is interested in robotics and fabrication, learns for the first time handling a cordless drill.
Once calibrated, the focal point of the SOL5 gets so hot that it can set sticks on fire!

A smooth start

On Saturday, just before we took a break for the weekend, we calibrated the mirrors on the SOL5 and this group of 12 soon-to-be solar entrepreneurs got a feeling of the power of the GoSOl technology. The excitement in the air was palpable as the students took turns setting leaves on fire in the powerful focal point of the SOL5. I got a glimpse of who might be the group’s chief SOL5 technician when the students were holding the door of the oven open with their hands inside exclaiming that they could feel the rising heat and one young man said ‘if we close the door it will heat up faster’. The door was promptly closed to allow the heat to accumulate.

A country willing to be ready for sustainable challenges

Gulu is a fascinating town. Located in Northern Uganda, about 100km from the border with South Sudan, Gulu and the surrounding region have a colorful and tragic history. Gulu was central in the Lord’s Resistance Army’s fight against President Museveni’s control over the country. Ethnic conflict raged throughout the nineties and into the 2000’s and northern Uganda is still feeling the effects of the insurgency. Many international non-governmental organizations are active, with Gulu acting as a Northern headquarters for several of them. It gives Gulu an international feel, while at the same time remaining quintessentially East African.

The demographic age structure of Uganda is one of the youngest in the world. More than 75% of the population is under the age of 30 and about half are under the age of 15. Unemployment for 18-24 year olds is around 80%. The fact that Northern Uganda is recovering from 20 years of bloody conflict means that the youths have an extremely important role in ensuring the country’s future, though they face many challenges.

Young solar entrepreneurs can play a key role

Our partner, Plan International, is focused on youths as the future leaders of their country. Their emphasis on empowering girls is bold and essential to Uganda becoming a modern country. Plan International created the SmartUp Hubs to empower the youths, to give them opportunity in the face of 80% unemployment and to build the social networks they’ll need for success.

During the lessons on entrepreneurship and in my discussions with the students, it has become apparent that peanuts, or "G-nuts" as they are called here (short for "Ground nuts"), are a staple food for all of their families. In their families, these students are responsible for gathering firewood and roasting peanuts in a saucepan over an open fire. Their estimates range from 2-5 hours to go collect enough firewood to roast 20kg of peanuts, and then about 5-15 minutes to roast each kilo. The prospect of roasting 20kg in 3 hours on the SOL5 got us thinking about a whole new business model.

The "Human Solar Concentrator" excercise: 12 people using SOL5 mirrors to reflect sunlight...
...and each student gets to experience the warmth at the focal point before getting into the assembly.

The students are all very excited about GoSol technology and especially about the prospect of soon having gainful employment. Many of the young women who are participating have previous baking experience which should make the bakery component of the training straight forward. I’m very much looking forward now to facilitating the incubation of a successful business. In our discussions about seasons, times of year, opportunities during different months they told me that December and January are two of the sunniest months of the year and many celebrations happen during those times, including marriages, Christmas, New Years then graduation season in January, meaning that during those months they should be able to bake cakes all day every day.

The students get trained in mirror fabrication, installation and adjustment.
The students clean the fully assembled SOL5's mirrors for optimal efficiency.

Now that the SOL5 is fully set up we are going to learn how to bake delicious solar breads, cakes and cookies.

Stay tuned, as the future is looking bright indeed!

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