February 24, 2016

Cornell Students Partner With Local Businesses to Supply Energy to Nepal

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Four Cornellians will work with the Cornell International Business Association on a crowdfunding campaign to finance Somu Energy — a startup that empowers local micro-entrepreneurs to provide clean solar energy to rural Nepal.

The campaign is the collective effort of professional business fraternity Phi Gamma Nu and five students in CIBA, according to Zhun Che ’18, a CIBA member.

“As a group of students that is interested in international business — and especially for me, who is interested in International Development — Somu Energy is the perfect cause,” Che said. “Not only is it a social impact start-up, but they have done so much great work in rural Nepal, especially in light of the 2015 earthquake.”

The crowdfunding campaign connects with local businesses — including the Tompkins Solar Initiative and the Student Assembly’s City and Local Affairs Committee — to raise money, according to Che.

“Local businesses in Collegetown have been supported by Cornell students for decades, and though we understand times are tough, hopefully [they] will be able to contribute any amount to this worthy cause,” Che said.

David J. D’Angelo, CEO and Co-Founder of Somu Energy, said the company’s vision is to provide children with reliable and affordable electricity — particularly in Nepal, where there is a visible lack of access to energy that prevents rural communities from lifting themselves out of poverty.

“We want to improve education outcomes through increased energy access,” D’Angelo said. “[For example], clean light enables students to read for longer hours into the night without being exposed to harmful kerosene.”

D’Angelo said another benefit of introducing electricity to communities currently lacking sufficient lighting is enabling business to stay open later, which would further stimulate local economies.

“Light, some may say, makes communities more productive, [and] productivity drives local economies,” D’Angelo said. “We are putting a system in place that is helping entire communities rebuild from the earthquakes and improve their lives.”

Several other universities are also executing crowdfunding initiatives, including teams at Case Western Business School, Penn State University, University of Nevada Reno and King’s College London, according to D’Angelo.

The campaign, which will begin in early April, plans to organize philanthropic events — including a bar night where students can buy wristbands that grant them discounted prices at Loco — and host a competition where students compete to develop the best solution to a business or education-related case study, according to Che.

Che said he expects the campaign to face obstacles once it begins, including competing with other fundraising causes on campus and planning events.

“It has been a very long and difficult process of actually taking our ideas and transforming them into concrete results, but we hope that in the end, all of the hard work will be worth it,” Che said.