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ND lights up Ugandan towns

Mel Flanagan | Thursday, September 27, 2012

Notre Dame’s Initiative for Global Development (IGD) is teaming up with Accenture, a global management consulting company, to provide electricity to rural communities in northern Uganda in hopes of giving them the ability to start their own enterprises.

Many locations in Uganda have spotty electricity, a fact reflected in the country’s low gross domestic product (GDP), IGD program director Patrick Murphy said.

Murphy said Notre Dame and Accenture hope that by providing working electricity, the residents of the country will have the opportunity to form more enterprises, thereby creating jobs in the area.

“It’s about electricity, Internet connectivity and training for displaced persons in Uganda with the intent of generating new jobs built upon the new entrepreneurs that are trained,” Murphy said. “What’s lacking to try to start a new enterprise now is reliable electricity.”
Murphy, former managing director for the Center for Sustainable Energy, said Accenture, through their Skills to Succeed program, aims to equip 250,000 people worldwide with the training to start a business. IGD pitched the idea of providing rural Africa with electricity to the company and formed a partnership, he said.

The pilot program will work to provide electricity to three initial sites in Uganda, Murphy said.

“It barely puts a dent in the electricity needs, but you have to start somewhere,” he said. “That’s why it’s philosophy-driven to start with.”

Over the next two years, Murphy said IGD plans to improve the initiative and work with on-the-ground partners to install electricity in other locations. BOSCO Uganda, the 31 Lengths Campaign and the NGO Educate! program will assist IGD in Uganda.

“We will install power systems, install Internet where it’s not already connected and some of our partners will provide training,” Murphy said. “We have to measure the impact of how many people we can train, how much power we can provide, but the intent is to start having businesses spin out.”

If the program shows some success, Murphy said he hopes Accenture will agree to expand the number of sites and the impact of the initiative.

Other Notre Dame faculty are involved in the effort as well.

Michael Sweikar, associate director of IGD, said electrical engineering professor Michael Lemmon is working to design more efficient models for solar micro grids. Juan Carlos Guzman, director of research for the Institute for Latino Studies, will conduct the impact evaluation of the project, Sweikar said.

“One of the real goals of IGD is to help link our resources on the ground with global development challenges,” Sweikar said. “That will lead to more opportunities for students to become engaged with faculty around doing real project and contributing to global development.”

The project aims to prove a philanthropic-based program can eventually turn a profit while still having a positive impact on the world, Murphy said.

“We’re not just providing electricity in today’s technology, but we’re looking into the technology, models, education and enterprises that can change the way business is done,” he said.