Sustainable Energy Program Update

The Good Return Sustainable Energy Program in Timor-Leste has been progressing in leaps, bounds and land-slides and has been both extremely challenging and very enjoyable.  It is now at the stage where it will begin to transition to Moris Rasik so they can continue to run with the program in the New Year.
The Extended Good Return Team in Timor-Leste
(L – R: Hamish, James, Guy, Damian, Paolo, Edy)
One of my first tasks on the program was to get the Memorandum of Understanding between Good Return, Mercy Corp and Moris Rasik signed. Progress on this task leaped ahead, with the initial drafts being vetted by Will Barron the Mercy Corp Energy 4 All Program Manager and myself. Then the drafts entered the review processed and land-slided for a while since the Mercy Corp Country Director was on leave for 6 weeks. Not to worry, there was plenty of other work to do! Rest assured, the MoU is signed!
Next was the need to determine which districts in Timor-Leste would be most appropriate for MR to focus on in the early days before expansion nationally. MR senior management feedback on the factors to assess was obtained quickly and easily at the regional manger meeting. Leap. This then necessitated a lot of running around trying to find information to assess these factors. The info should have been easily available but wasn’t. Landslide. An example was the Timore Leste Rural Electrification Master Plan (REMP). In the end even the Director General of the Secretaria de estado da politica energetica (Secretariat of state for energy policy) was calling me to try to get a copy of this report! Combined eventually with sunlight data from NASA, electricity coverage courtesy of UNDP and client data from Moris Rasik we nearly had all the information we needed.
Having identified the districts we thought would be good for business we needed to determine if the people in the districts we had selected wanted the products and could afford them. It took 3 weeks to get approval and arrange the trip with numerous Timor style reschedules. Landslide. Then ensured a week long motorbike journey into the districts of Ainaro and Manufahi, our top 2 rated districts. Bound. The trip revealed the reality – none of the 98 clients interviewed had access to grid electricity. Moris Rasik clients were spending on average $4 a week on candles and kerosene. The results of the energy needs assessment were over-whelming , clients wanted, needed and could afford the type of solar lighting products we wanted to give them. You can read all about this trip here and you can read the Energy Needs Assessment report here.
With the field set, all that remained was to develop a loan product specifically for the purchase of Solar products, a mechanism to ensure the clients would buy the solar product with the loan, create a distribution network and select some products, as per the business model below. Leap, Bound, Landslide, Repeat.
Working with the Operations Manager at Moris Rasik we sketched out the details of the loan product and started it on the path to approval. Not so bad. Then came the voucher system – on first go it was far to complicated and we started again, and then revised it again and again with Mercy Corp input. It looks beautiful now.  After a month of work these processes are sitting waiting for the right day to shine. They got their first glimpse of sunshine at the recently held Programma Ahi Baa Uma Information memo session in Maubesse.

The SRY101L, D-Light S250, Barefoot Firefly and Sundaya Ulitium

To get the ball rolling on the distribution network we met with a range of local businesses that focus on electronic products and carefully narrowed down the choice to 3. These 3 are our potential ‘Importadors’.
Product selection has proven to be a lot tougher.  We collected a range of Solar products form our 3 importadors and from internationally recognised sources such as Barefoot, D-light and Sundaya and consulted with Origin Energy to determine the best way of assessing the product for our purpose. Our partner Mercy Corp also sent a number of products away to be tested in detail as well as conducting some field testing. We decided to take the products on a road-show to see what clients thought of them, and you can read all about that in this blog post.

The Products charging
During this trip we also met with and interviewed clients and shop-keepers who are interested in becoming ‘District Distribuidors’. In Late Novemeber we will be returning to identify the ‘Ajente Sucos’ or Sales Agents for the areas as well. In the New Year, Moris Rasik and Mercy Corp will be bringing them all together to discuss how they will work together to supply and service solar lights in the regional areas of Timor Leste. 

Product Focus Sessions

Last week marked a turning point in the Good Return Sustainable Energy program in Timor-Leste. The transition of the project from Good Return hands to Moris Rasik management has begun, and it is an exciting time. 

 The PABU Team on the road!
This transition started during a week-long trip into the districts to conduct product focus sessions with Moris Rasik clients at centre meetings and to identify district based distributors that can bring the solar products from Dili into the Districts. The trip was conducted by the Moris Rasik Training and Product Development Research Officer, Carlos and myself,  Damian – the Good Return Sustainable Energy Program Manager (Timor-Leste). Thankfully this time we were travelling by 4WD rather than by my motorbike, like last time.
The trip had a gruelling schedule of 6am starts, with about 5 hours of travel per day on Timors notorious roads and as many hours of focus sessions and interviews with local shop owners. The response however was uplifting and over whelming – the solar home systems and solar lanterns we demonstrated were in high demand by clients and potential distributors alike! In addition, using the Moris Rasik network of over 12,000 clients nationally we were able to identify a number of existing clients and potential new clients who may be suitable distributors.

Meeting with a potential DD and his family in Maubesse
The trip took us through the steep and windy roads south of Dili into the district of Aileu, past the muddy road works and along mountain ridges to chilly Maubesse in the north corner of Ainaro district. Maubesse sits in a large cauldron surrounded by bald, grassy mountains and is one of the more beautiful spots to over-night in Timor. From Maubesse we crawled down steep switch-backs and headed south east into Manufahi district and eventually onto the rolling hills around Same.  Continuing from Same the next day we headed west in Hatu-Udo Sub-district for more centre meetings and focus sessions and then onto Ainaro. The following day was spent in Ainaro before we made the trek back up the mountains to Maubesse and back through Aileu to Dili.

 The windy mountain road from Ainaro to Maubesse. Kids walk a couple of hours a day to get to and from school
Along the way we stopped at the MR offices in Aileu, Maubesse, Same and Ainaro to provide training to staff on the responsibilities of the Sales Agents. We deviated from the main roads to visit centre meeting and conduct product focus sessions. In the town-ships we  visited with clients and well respected business people to identify potential distributors. These visits meant that multiple cups of Timor-Lestes national drink – coffee were enjoyed, gregarious and wide-eyed children were met.

The products on display to wide eyed kids

These kind of discussions in Timor tend to be quite lengthy. The Sustainable Energy Program / Programma Ahi Baa Uma (Light in the house) idea of building a sustainable business model and distribution network is a new concept by Western Standards and is not intrinsically understood in Timor. It is very interesting to watch the reaction of business people when they grasp the opportunity that this program presents to them – namely to manage and operate a network of sales agents selling solar powered lights on credit through the Moris Rasik network of clients.

The location of one of the product-focus sessions – 10 points for spotting the solar panel!

All in all the trip was very productive. By the end, Carlos was taking the lead with client interviews and product focus sessions and was extremely well versed in the mechanics of the program and the responsibilities of each of the actors. He is a natural networker and I’m sure he will do his best to ensure the transition of the program from the hands of Good Return to Moris Rasik goes as smoothly as it can in the unpredictable environment of Timor-Leste!


An met such an example of unpredictability on our return home . A giant tree that had fallen down across the only main road between Aileu and Dili. The emergency response team, the ‘Bombeiros’ as they are known were quickly on the scene but the single chain-saw they had couldn’t handle the multiple 1m think tree branch’s it was presented with. They were forced back to the ever-present, ever-ready, timeless machete with which to cut through this ancient tree.

MR training in Maubesse

The Programme Ahi Baa Uma ( PABU – Lit. Light for the house) Team, Training and Product Development Manager and Operations Manager journeyed out of Dili to Maubesse recently to providing training to all the staff from the Same, Maubesse, Ainaro and Aileu offices (known as the SAMALEU Region). 

The team left Dili and travelled the ~60km to Maubesse in about 3 hours. Arriving in mountainous and chilly Maubesse, in the Ainaro District at 9am the team assembled the staff and began to conduct the training on PABU, Client protection and Salary Loan changes.  Total staff travel time was about 30 hours for the approximate 30 staff in attendance, 10 from each district of Aileu, Manufahi and Ainaro. The commitment of staff to travel so far in adverse weather conditions and on Timorese roads on their scooters is testament to their desire to learn!

We were lucky that the Regional Manager had been able to secure emergency venue to conduct the training as the mother of the owner of the original training site had died the previous night and the previous site was now being used to house the extended family in preparations for her mothers burial.

The Training and Product Manager, Mr. Joao Magalhaes presented the new Client Protection policy based on the SMART Grameen methodology. This presentation gave the staff an over-view of how MR existing procedures meet the requirements of SMART and the additional procedures that need to be conducted to ensure compliance with SMART. The SMART Grameen methodology is designed to ensure MFI’s and MFI clients:
  • Avoid over-indebtness
  • Ensure pricing is transparent and responsible
  • Collect loan repayments appropriately
  • Behave ethically
  • follow mechanisms for complaint resolution
  • protect privacy

    The Operations Manager, Mr. Nimrod De La Pena presented in Tetum (His 4th Language!) updates on the Salary Loan program to staff and conducted exercises to ensure that the staff understood the implications of changes in the interest rate for salary loans and how balances will be affected by the changes.

    After Lunch the PABU team consisting of the Program Manager, Mr. Damian Fuller and the Research Officer, Carlos Mendonca presented the PABU information Memorandum to staff. This Memorandum explains the details of the PABU including:
    • Who is eligible for loans to purchase solar lighting products and who is eligible for loans to be Sales Agents or Distributors.
    • What the responsibilities of the Sales Agent, the District Distributor and Importer are
    • What the responsibilities of Moris Rasik staff are
    • The loan application and distribution process for Consumers and Sales Agents.

    A PDF version of the Information memo is attached here.

      The team also conducted some role-play exercises for staff where they had to determine if their colleagues were eligible to receive loans under the program. Finally, the solar products were demonstrated to great effect in the gathering gloom of rain clouds. In fact, most of the solar products had to employed during the training to provide sufficient light for staff to read the materials, as electricity is unavailable in Maubesse during the day!

      After a full day of training the team arrived home in Dili about 8pm.

      Ainaro & Manufahi Field Trip

      In late August I managed to head out with a translator for my first field trip – an Energy Needs Assessment.

      Number of clients interviewed:
      Languages spoken:
      Number of Centre Meetings:
      Distance Travelled:
      Number of Districts:
      Days on the road:
      Number of Sucos:
      Total Cost:

      Centre Meeting in Ainaro
      The bike in Same
      The assessment went ok. We we underwhelmed by the lack of energy access and the difficulty of explaining how solar lighting systems work and their benefits to people who have hardly seen electricity in operation. In hindisght, I really should have taken a few products along, I didn’t because I was worried about tainting the markets perception of the products available.

      Renato (my translator) and his aunt and cuzs in Same

      It was so cold in the mountains in Maubesse we got the open fire going!
      At the end of a very long, dusty and tiring week, the assessment was a sad success I guess – not one of the 96 clients interviewed had access to grid electricity. 10 had solar panels. On average 70% want solar power of some description. 

      Happiest when I’m active

      Its very easy to sleep during the day in Jakarta. Most people seem to do it, the librarian at the UN section of the National Library who is looking for a journal for me has just now apologised because she hasn’t found the book yet and she is going off to have her after lunch nap!

      The last week I have been living almost on a nocturnal basis. Its quite strange, but once in the rythym is kind of addictive somehow. My body clock now operates pretty well on the following hours +/- an hour or so:

      0900 hrs – 1100 hrs: Wake up, Mandy, cooked b/fast, Internet / meetings.
      1500 hrs – 1700 hrs: Return to Memories Hotel, Mandy, sleep, maybe read.
      1900 hrs – 2000 hrs: Wake up, Mandy, cooked dinner, beers.
      0200 hrs – 0400 hrs: Farewells, Makanan time with the Memories Hotel ‘family’, Mandy, sleep.


      The hard part about this schedule is that a large portion of the waking hours are not standard business hours. In fact for a large portion of the waking hours there is not a lot to do other than sit, talk, drink beer, eat peanuts or maybe go dancing. Networking is not a huge option because lets face it, not many people want to talk about their work at 2am in the morning!

      I have found therefore that the time between 1000 hrs and 1500 hrs is critical. I must get something done or else I feel like I’m stagnating. This is a very Bule way of looking at the world it seems, which is a consistent theme for white people no matter where they are in the world. We seem to be always looking for something.

      It took me a week to work that out. Therefore I’m happy to report that i’ve had some good meetings this week. Ririn from PwC Jakarta was extremeley helpful and put me onto two organisations that she deals with in her CSR role – Mitra Dhu’afa and the Indonesia Solar Lending Program run by Khaula Foundation.

       Mitra Dhu’afa are a Grameen supported Micro-finance initiative that is assisting poor women in Jakarta. They are working with PwC to develop a PwC Village in Jakarta for the women to build their enterprises and learn about financial literacy and how to be better entreprenuers.

      Indonesia Solar Lending Program  is attempting to achieve a very similar outcome as the Mercy Corp, Moris Rasik and Good Returns Energy 4 All Project that I will be working on in Timor Leste. They install small Solar Home Systems into rural villages in Indonesia. They are currently implementing a pilot program in Kalimantan.

      Links to all these organisations and more have now been added to the side-bar.

      Timor Leste Terms of Reference

      The terms of reference for my 3 months in Timor Leste are exciting! My role will basically be to act as a facilitator and co-ordinator for Good Returns/World Education Australia Limited between Moris Rasik, a Timor Leste based Micro-Finance Institute (MFI) and Mercy Corp, an aid organisation.

      Mercy Corp has some cash from the EU that it wants to use to establish a renewable energy technology program in Timor Leste. Moris Rasik has the micro finance clients and micro finance infrastructure and social networks needed for the renewable energy technology to reach the local people. Good Returns has the knowledge capability to deliver the program and the education backing of WEAL to assist in promoting and training local service providers so that the program is a success. Good Returns also has a renewable energy technology porogram agenda, and currently work with Moris Rasik in delivering donations from the Australian public to Moris Rasiks micro finance clients, hence the need for someone (me!), to facilitate the whole thing. Who ever said aid organisations rarely work well together?

      However, before I get stuck into any aid work, I still need to finish my kitchen. After a crazy couple of weeks I realised that I was imposing all the stress myself, Russell and Lassie were experience on all of us. I had the ability to post-pone my flights, bring the stress levels down and get back to enjoying the kitchen renovations. So that is what I did, thanks in part to some good guidance from mum and dad who provided the support I needed and helped me realised that I wouldn’t be failing if i left later, I would only be failing if I didn’t enjoy what I set out to enjoy doing. So, my new departure date is now Thursday April 28th. It will still be a tough ask, but it will mean I can leave the apartment polished and should be able to see the final finished product. Pictures soon.

      The Start, again

      I decided late last year that it was time to take another long journey. I’m happy to say that I’ll be heading off on Sat 16th April to ride my motorbike from Timor Leste to London.

      The journey actually starts in Singapore, I head by Ferry through Indonesia to Timor Leste where I will spend 3 months volunteering for micro finance organisation Moris Rasik.

      Once my tasks are completed I will journey back to Singapore and head towards India via China. After India the plans become much less detailed, but I intend to head through Pakistan into China via the Karakoum Pass, avoiding Afganistan by travelling North and then tracking back to the West through Kazakstan onto Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Hungary, Poland and on to the UK via Germany.

      It should be a fantastic trip, but first I need to complete my kitchen renovations!