First Day at School

February 24, 2012

Armed with my detailed programme of activities for the week I set off on the short stroll along the seafront to the office on Queens Road. Located in a hub for community and voluntary organisations, Renewable World occupies a compact suite of offices on the third floor and I am welcomed by Jo Kelly, Global Programme Director. I’m greeted by a raft of smiling faces and we exchange pleasantries before Nick, the new Program Manager for South East Asia arrives. He’s a bright cheery fellow and an accomplished globetrotter with no shortage of tales to tell. It’s not long before we’re both immersed in our induction training. I’m lucky to be part of such a thorough briefing I’m told as this would not normally be the case for volunteers or interns.

Who is Renewable World?
More than 1.4 billion people worldwide have no access to electricity. Indoor air pollution from paraffin, wood, grass or animal dung used for lighting and heating kills nearly 2 million people every year – mainly women and children. Renewable World was set up set up by individuals from the Renewable Energy Industry in 2007 to act as the link between the European Renewable Energy sector and energy poor communities who are most vulnerable to climate change. Giving people the means to control their own destiny is the only long term solution to the problems encountered in the developing world. It is difficult to imagine the conditions that would allow the eradication of poverty without a reliable energy supply so I am really looking forward to learning more about the Renewable World business model in the coming days.

The ability to multi task is certainly a requirement to work with this organisation that currently has only six full time staff, soon to be seven when Nick takes up his role in Kathmandu. A number of interns provide valuable support also, so space is at a premium in an office that hums with activity. Once I complete the induction phase, my role will be to offer support to the Programme Manager for East Africa, Paolo Mele, based in Nairobi, Kenya. Thankfully I’m accustomed to the challenges of start up companies although my research on Kenya tells me I may need to edit a few chapters! The office in Nairobi was opened in November 2011 and prior to that was managed remotely from Brighton.

The Renewable World Team share a welcome drink with new team members Declan and Nick

At the end of the first day we have a good overview of Renewable World (the big picture) and have been updated on some of the projects in our respective areas. In Kenya I will be tasked to work with two membership based organisations Kenyan Renewable Energy Association (KEREA) and the Kenyan Coffee Producers Association. In addition I will work as part of a project team with the fishing communities surrounding Lake Victoria. My other duties will be to research the local media and fundraising environments and propose a strategy for engagement. We’re scheduled to meet the Board of Trustees at 6pm.

It’s rarely that I’ve travelled and not met an Irish person somewhere en route and tonight is no different. I’m introduced to Louis Fitzgerald, a Trustee, founding member of Airtricity in Ireland and a colleague of the late Ciarán King. He’s stopped off in Brighton for the board meeting on his way back from the abandoned France v Ireland game in Paris the previous Saturday. There’s no time for chit chat as we’re introduced to the remaining board members before they embark on a packed agenda. The depth of experience shared by board members in both the renewable energy sector and the developing world is impressive and as a very active board they supplement a very small management team.

So, it’s back to the hotel to digest an information packed day and hang up the suit. As there’s no food available in the hotel I set off to explore the local eateries and just up the road I find ‘the Prince Arthur’….could I pass that by? The landlord is as new to his post as me, having opened the doors just ten days earlier. He immediately engages me in conversation and it’s not long before I’m being introduced to his Irish girlfriend Lisa and yes of course I know people that she knows and the story goes on….

The only problem about finding a friendly local like this to unwind and write my blog is that the conversation is too good so I never get time to write. I always believed in the adage ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ so I embrace the hospitality warmly. It was a great way to meet the locals and hear about Brighton. Lots of people seem to commute to London for work, combining the best of both worlds I guess. American Express is the biggest employer and has gifted a spectacular stadium to Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club. The American Express Community Stadium is the 22,000 all seated home for one of the UK’s oldest football clubs and as the locals told me, has breathed new life into the club.

I recall as a young lad the Esso FA Club badge collection and Brighton and Hove was one that featured so it was nice to get some history behind the club many years later. I’m sure that collection is stored somewhere in the attic, almost more treasured today than it was back in the day!