Interviews

Impact In Numbers

Key Insights

Impact Interview is our initiative where we explore the stories of changemakers and the initiatives they have developed to support sustainable development in Indonesia. This time, we spoke with Sriwani Padu Lemba (Mbak Sri) from Sumba Sustainable Solutions (3S)

Can you explain how Sumba Sustainable Solutions was formed and what problems this organization is trying to tackle?

Currently, Sumba Sustainable Solution (3S) is an organization that focuses on two fields, bamboo and renewable energy. Sumba Sustainable Solutions was first founded by Mrs. Sarah, our founder from Australia. Initially, she got to know Sumba through her volunteering experience back in 2008 for her educational research. Finally deciding to settle in Sumba, she built a house made of bamboo.
Seeing the value and potential of bamboo in the future, she employed local workers, giving them employment opportunities instead of having them pursue the option of migrating outside Sumba with the risk of not finding suitable work. 3S then began to employ several local workers for preservation and construction of buildings using bamboo.
Our venture into renewable energy is based on the fact that 25% of Sumba is still dark, so we still really need lighting. The 3S team then started tackling this issue by distributing solar lamps in communities throughout the island of Sumba.
Initially separate, these two initiatives are now synergistic. Because bamboo is closely related to sustainable development, and renewable energy is also environmentally friendly, bamboo and renewable energy are in synergy. We buy bamboo directly from farmers as one way to support their livelihood. Uniquely, bamboos are connected to our solar lamp distribution initiative as a payment method – where we allow the villagers to exchange bamboo for our lamps, especially if they don’t have the money to buy lamps.

Apart from the barter business model, what is the distribution process for distributing electricity to villages in Sumba?

For electricity, we currently provide solar lamps made from used electronics, lithium batteries or used laptop batteries – which we recycle into lamps. We partner with Power Wells in Australia to do so.
We collaborate directly with local villages in distributing these solar powered lamps. Usually, there is a village budget where they will allocate, for example, every year how many units of lamps will they provide for their residents.
Then secondly, we directly visited these communities and in each village location we adopt an agent system. These agents will lease the solar lamp units that the village residents need. We train these agents, where they are responsible for carrying out payment collections. We have field staff who will then go to the village every month to collect the agent’s billing results. For the agents themselves, they will get a fee of 10% of their billing income, which is additional income for them.
We distribute these lamps on credit for three years. Please note that Sumba’s income is very below average. By holding installments for three years at Rp 50,000 per month, that really makes these solar lamps and access to electricity affordable.
They can also technically get kerosene for more than 50,000 every month. So instead of buying kerosene, we encourage them to pay for their solar lamps through installments because not only they get illumination with the lamps, but the electricity provides additional benefits such as allowing them to charge their cell phones.
To use the lights themselves, we use an unlocking mechanism, where every month, they have to pay first and buy a token and then use this token to unlock their access to electricity so they can turn on the lights.We also carry out free repairs for damage to lights

So far, how many villages and how many households have used solar power systems from 3S?

To date, there are 3,500 households that use our solar lamps. We also provide PLTS for 25 school units throughout Sumba.
Apart from electricity and lighting, we also provided 20 units of corn and coffee grinders to help people process their crops, and solar water pumps for them to garden – so they don’t have to draw water using buckets anymore. Indeed, we provide these things for free to purely help the community. But for lighting, we also want the public to contribute to getting lighting so it’s not always free

What are the challenges encountered in the electricity distribution service process?

So far, based on our actual experience, the first thing is about language. Most of the people in the village use the Sumba local language while in the process of administrative requirements, you are required to fill out information in Bahasa Indonesia.   
Then the second issue is that the location of these villages is very far from the city, so it is quite difficult for us to reach them. Not only is the distance far, access to this village also requires special transportation – using a regular car is quite difficult.
The third is about their knowledge of using lighting tools. We do provide training to the community on how to use the tools. However, when there is a problem with the lighting equipment, it will be very difficult and we cannot always help immediately because of distance constraints, especially if the problem arises after we return from the village we visited.
These are examples of some of the challenges that we are currently still trying to address.

At one point, a village had no lighting for one week due to issues with the lamps being broken. The lack of phone signal and reception made it difficult to communicate. They had to travel a long distance across hills to visit us just to repair the lamp.

What real tangible impact did you see for the villagers after they had this lighting provided by Sumba Sustainable Solutions?

The first is especially for women in villages. The ibu-ibus usually spend their daily lives gardening, helping their husbands in the fields, and also weaving. Sumba is famous for its weaving crafts. 
Before these lights they had difficulty weaving after it got dark. They work purely from morning to evening, when night falls there is no longer any activity. So, after having the lights, it really helped them, at night they could weave and they could sell the results of their weaving to help their daily economy.
Not only mothers, school children can now do their schoolwork at night.
There are many crafts products that we exchange for lamps. Not only bamboo, the villagers also make handicrafts such as wallets and bags that can be exchanged for lamps as an alternative to money.
So we really saw the impact for ourselves. Apart from that, agents get additional income from the 10% service fee every month, which can help them with capital to sell and open small kiosks in their homes.

What future plans for 3S are currently being explored to maximize the impact of the initiatives undertaken?

With the large demand and need for our solar lights in Sumba, we plan to bring the process of assembling our solar lights directly to Sumba. We do this so that the distribution process will be easier. We also have the expertise with a team of professional and certified local technicians.
Then secondly, we want to export the bamboo products that we process in laminated form to buyers outside Indonesia. Apart from that, we want to also provide additional mills which can help the village residents’ income. One of the largest incomes in Sumba is that apart from rice, it is also corn. With this tool, we hope that when people harvest corn, they can also grind the corn to sell.​​

There are many initiatives that 3S is exploring, does the 3S team itself have plans to enlarge its team to accommodate these initiatives?

As for our own team, we currently have 25 people, all of whom are local and 40% are women. Indeed, we focus on supporting women so that they can work and have good careers. Currently we are focusing on this 25 person team. When there is training, we want them to participate so they can build their capacity.​

How can people learn more about Sumba Sustainable Solutions and your initiatives?

Learn more about Sumba Sustainable Solutions by clicking their social links below
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