In search of public support for energy for all

“A lot of people just don’t see the point. Everybody knows that poor people need water and food but why is energy so important?”

These words are spoken in a video introduction to the Energy For All campaign promoted by the UK development agency, Practical Action. They could serve a further purpose, pinned on the wall of the every communications department tasked with raising public awareness about energy poverty.

Energy fundraisers must envy the status of clean water campaigns. Images of women carrying water have become part of the visual landscape of the international development sector. The Millennium Development Goal for access to clean water has been achieved five years early.

With a price tag of $48 billion per annum, the goal of universal access to modern energy services is badly in need of similar public recognition. What are NGOs doing to trigger that elusive “aha moment” on energy poverty?

In the past I’ve used the NASA satellite photo of the earth by night. It’s a powerful image but, for high impact social media, we need to turn to the likes of the campaigning group ONE, similar to OneWorld only in name.

ONE has 0.3 million fans on Facebook and 0.6 million Twitter followers. Energy Access has been added to its list of “Hot Topics” and Chief Executive Michael Elliot has been despatched to a Fortune Green Brainstorm event in California. He warms up the audience of leaders by describing them as a “terrific collection of brainpower and energy and creativity and passion,” just the qualities needed to tackle energy poverty.

The video and subsequent feature articles zip around the social networks, polling supporters on a choice of five solutions to ONE’s “Energy Poverty Challenge.” Whether by intent or mischance, each suggested solution raises some rather tricky issues not addressed in Mr Elliot’s presentation.

For the sort of simple messaging that sticks in the public mind, check out the Power the World campaign promoted by Music for Relief, the US non-profit founded on behalf of the music industry by members of the band Linkin Park.

A cartoon character, Imani, tugs the energy heartstrings in a high quality animation video. The case for energy access is extended from electricity and cooking to include the dangers for girls walking at night and for their mothers giving birth in the dark.

The call to action is a pledge to Power the World which will be handed to the UN Secretary-General before the Rio summit.

The Practical Action Energy For All campaign invites supporters to “Make Your Point” by choosing one of five reasons why energy poverty matters.

It’s early days to judge results but the public response to these innovative campaigns on energy poverty appears to be a little sluggish. I’m surprised that the 11 “Action Areas” identified by the Secretary-General’s High-Level Group on Sustainable Energy for All fail to include anything on communications.

The omission shows in the Sustainable Energy For All website which is a shadow of the quality of the NGO campaign sites.

As Michael Elliot says in the ONE video: “we’re supporting the UN’s efforts and we’re beginning really exciting work on developing advocacy on energy policy but all of us in this field need help.”


this article was first published by OneWorld UK