In 2007, Mongolia’s economy grew at a double digit pace with modest inflation. The slump of the 1990s must have seemed a distant memory in the last full year before the elections in 2008.

The previous year saw several iconic projects approved, and 2007, the next year in our 25 years in 25 days reflection, did likewise.  The Renewable Energy for Rural Access Project (REAP) became effective in 2007 and was ultimately expanded.  The project brought a modern solution to a century old problem:  how can the benefits of electricity be harnessed to benefit the quarter of Mongolia’s people who are nomadic herders living in gers?  Connecting them to the grid was not a solution both because distances are vast and because nomadic people move around.  The modern solution was to give the herders access to solar power through a program launched by the Mongolian Government supported by the World Bank and the Government of the Netherlands. “Thanks to the National 100,000 Solar Ger Electrification Program, over half a million men, women and children, covering half the rural population of Mongolia and 70 percent of herders, now have access to modern electricity.” For these 100,000 herder families, the off-grid solar home systems generate enough power for lights, televisions, radios, mobile phone charging and small appliances. (Video here.) 

From the World Bank publication
"I'd Like You To Know"

The Second Sustainable Livelihoods Project, the second of a three part program, was approved in 2007 and took effect the following year.  The project, financed by an IDA credit, and IDA grant, and a grant from the European Union, supported a wide range of activities aimed at enhancing livelihood security and sustainability by scaling-up institutional mechanisms that reduce the vulnerability of rural communities throughout Mongolia. (Video here.) The project supported improved pastoral risk management and helped establish, on a nationwide basis, the Community Initiative, an effective, transparent and socially inclusive mechanism that empowers communities to identify and implement small public facility improvement projects. (Video here.) SLP-2 also supported microfinance, deepening and widening access to sustainable financial services to rural citizens.  More than 32,000 micro-finance loans were dispersed in rural Mongolia benefiting 150,000 people. (Video here.)

The Education for All Fast Track Initiative (EFA-FTI) provided a $29.4 million grant, approved in 2007, that upgraded classrooms, dormitories, and facilities, helped pre-school children in rural areas gain access to pre-primary education through mobile ger kindergartens, and provided training for teachers.

A 2007 report examined the Enabling Environment for Social Accountability in Mongolia, seeking “to analyze conditions that influence the ability of citizens and their organizations to promote accountability of public institutions in Mongolia; to identify priority areas for policy, legal, regulatory, and institutional reforms to improve these conditions; and to identify areas in which the capacity building of civil society organizations and the Government of Mongolia may be promoted to enhance social accountability for improved governance, social and economic development, and poverty reduction.” 

The study, which helped lay the groundwork for more recent initiatives on social accountability, recommended actions to increase CSO financial resources and capacity, and noted “the need to improve the quality of the media to ensure freedom of expression and citizens’ right to reliable information and enhance public interest broadcasting. Among the proposals for institutional reforms is capacity building of public radio and television, which is currently threatened by funding cuts and politicization of its governing board.”  The study further wrote “as access to information is crucial to social accountability, the study recommends not only the adoption of an Access to Information Law, which is currently on the parliament’s agenda, but also the amendment of the Law on State Secrets as it reinforces a culture of secrecy.”

A 2007 report titled Building Skills for the New Economy examined the labor market in Mongolia and identified three major interrelated challenges—joblessness, informality and skills mismatch. The report argued that “a key constraint for future growth from the perspective of human resources is the failure to provide adequate learning opportunities, school curricula and teaching for producing the skills that are in high demand. But even if the supply of skills and labor were to be appropriate to market needs, access to productive employment would still be limited by a poor investment climate for firm growth and a social insurance system that generates work disincentives.”

Mongolia Development Market Place,
Sukhbaatar Square; September 7, 2007

And in 2007, the World Bank Mongolia Office initiated the Mongolia Development Marketplace Program.  Based on the model of competitive grants, 37 innovative projects out of 190 finalists were declared as winners and awarded grants amounting to US$326,000.

Next we look at 2008 and a new forum for deliberation about economic policy.
Prepared in collaboration with Dulguun Byambatsoo.

 (Please follow our 25 years in 25 days journey here and on twitter with the hashtag #WBG_Mongolia25th)

Photo by Adam Gregor/

The theme of this year’s Global Infrastructure Forum was delivering sustainable and inclusive infrastructure. As a woman who works in the world of infrastructure, I was invited to join a panel at the forum made up solely of women to address gender inclusivity and was asked to provide a specific example of a project beneficial to women. The first thing that came to mind was our solar project in Senegal, which has not only opened up the country to solar for the first time, but has also empowered local women through training in business skills through an organization called Empow’Her that was linked to the project.

Although I was delighted by the opportunity to participate on the panel and share our work on the Senergy solar project, I found myself wishing that every single panel at the Forum had a similar question rather than addressing this topic by making women into an exclusive group. If there was an equal level of discussion about how we include women in infrastructure projects on each panel at this type of gathering then infrastructure could indeed be more inclusive.

I work for Meridiam, an investment firm that develops, finances and manages long-term and sustainable public infrastructure. Our mission is to deliver, together with our investors and partners, sustainable infrastructure that improves the quality of peoples’ lives. That’s why we try, whenever feasible, to involve local communities and provide them shared benefits.

Meridiam led in the development of Senergy, a 30 MW solar plant 125 km northeast of Dakar. It is the largest utility scale project in West Africa and the first solar PV project in Africa eligible for the UN Clean Development Mechanism, and is also being Gold Standard certified. The 25-year power purchase agreement (PPA) was signed in June 2014 with the national utility (Senelec), backed by the Government of Senegal. We were able to bring the project to close within 15 months, and are on target for a completion date for next month (July 2017). Meridiam has also just completed the financing for a second solar power plant in Senegal.

Not only will this project provide cleaner and cheaper electricity, but it will also include, as shared benefits, a new borehole to access drinking water, upgrades to the local school, the funding of a microcredit association to promote women’s businesses in the local area, premises for a maternity unit, and will ensure long-term local support.

Meridiam set up a foundation called Archery, which joined forces with the organization Empow’Her, led by Soazig Barthelemy, to help women in this region in Senegal build sustainable livelihoods through the development of entrepreneurial skills.

Working with Empow’Her to develop the solar plant, we made sure there were always equal numbers of men and women in the room, and equal employment of men and women on the site. The tendency when building infrastructure projects is that men will do the heavy lifting and take the higher paying jobs and women will continue “working in the fields.” About 50 women benefitted directly or indirectly through this project.

. Their mission is to invest in women by enabling female leadership, teaching skills, self-confidence, and providing access to networks.

Women create twice as many businesses as men, and represent more than half of the businesses in developing countries. However, many disparities and inequalities prevent women from thriving in their entrepreneurial role, often because few opportunities exist to leave the informal sector or activities that are generally unprofitable, unrewarding, and irregular.

Rather than talk in a general sense about inclusivity and bringing women into both the field of infrastructure, and tying infrastructure benefits to women, let’s help form a paradigm going forward so this becomes the norm.

If you have more examples to share of how infrastructure or Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) you are involved with innovatively benefit women, or how to make infrastructure more gender inclusive, I would love to hear about them. Please share your comments below.

Related Posts:

Global Infrastructure Forum maps out route towards delivering sustainable infrastructure
5 ways public-private partnerships can promote gender equality
Examining public-private partnership projects through a gender lens

The markets for rural energy access and internet connectivity are ripe for disruption – and increasingly, we’re seeing benefit from combining the offerings.
Traditionally, power and broadband industries have been dominated by large incumbent operators, often involving a state-owned enterprise. Today, new business models are emerging, breaking market barriers to jointly provide energy access and broadband connectivity to consumers.
As highlighted in the World Development Report 2016, access to internet has the potential to boost growth, expand economic opportunities, and improve service delivery. The digital economy is growing at 10% a year—significantly faster than the global economy as a whole. Growth in the digital economy is even higher in developing markets: 15 to 25% per year (Boston Consulting Group).
To make sure everyone benefits, coverage needs to be extended to the roughly four billion people that still lack access to the internet. In a testing phase, Facebook has experimented with flying drones and Google has released balloons to provide internet to remote populations.
But as cool as they might sound, these innovations do nothing for the one billion people who still live off the grid… and don’t have access to the electricity you need to use the internet in the first place! The findings of the Internet Inclusion Summit panel which the World Bank joined recently put this nicely: “without electricity, internet is only a black hole”.
That’s why efforts to expand electricity and broadband access should go hand in hand: close coordination between the energy and ICT sectors is probably one of the most efficient and sensible ways of making sure rural populations in low-income countries can reap the benefits of digital development. This thinking is also reflected in a new generation of disruptive telecom infrastructure projects.

The challenge? People who lack both electricity and internet are often overlooked by traditional operators because they are typically considered either too remote or too poor. Several smaller players are now stepping in to serve these neglected segments of the market and challenge the way internet and electricity are delivered.
The classification of these firms is often complex. Some see themselves as electricity service providers or innovative telecom companies, while others are best described as durable goods retailers or financial service firms. As diverse as they may be, these companies share a common inclination to do business differently and leverage technological innovation.
In rural Africa, some of these innovative service providers are working to increase wireless networks by combining solar panels with cell towers to provide internet connectivity. In the same vein, a Kenyan startup has developed shock-resistant WiFi access points that can be powered with small solar systems. Using a different model, a company in Sub-Saharan Africa plans to offer a new type of satellite-based wifi, a change in technology that reduces the electricity requirement. For remote communities, bundling a public wifi access point with a solar and battery mini-grid is another affordable option.
In addition to offering electricity in a new way, Distributed Energy Service Companies (DESCOs) have started bundling pay-as-you-go solar electricity and mobile or wifi services. For example, Fenix International and Lumos, have partnered with MTN, Africa’s largest mobile telecommunications company, to integrate mobile money systems and financial platforms that allow customers to rent-to-own solar home systems and pay for electricity through a mobile phone. With Lumos selling their systems at MTN kiosks as MTN services, the two industries combine customer experiences and after sales services. In the same spirit, some solar companies are starting to offer low-cost smart phones as part of their offering.
Beyond the obvious benefits, there are also many challenges when considering synergies between connectivity and power infrastructure.
One of them is competing policy objectives. In Niger, for instance, energy availability in rural areas is often lower than mobile connectivity, therefore energy and broadband providers may want to prioritize different areas when looking to expand their services. The Mobile for Utilities team at GSMA are playing an important role here, disseminating good practices, policy advice, and market analytics. A recent publication from USAID also offered valuable insights on how to remove market barriers for disruptive start-ups.
Better harmonization between internet providers and power companies will go a long way in addressing the rising demand for high-speed internet and reliable electricity. With support from the Digital Development Partnership, our team is working with ICT and energy experts across the World Bank Group to support these disruptive business models, including those that bundle energy and internet access.

The Digital Development Partnership (DDP) is a platform for digital innovation and development financing and brings public and private sector partners together to catalyze support to developing countries in the implementation of digital development strategies and plans.

Also available in: French

Energy storage is a crucial tool for enabling the effective integration of renewable energy and unlocking the benefits of the local generation of clean resilient energy supply. Photo credits: IFC

For over a hundred years, electrical grids have been built with the assumption that electricity has to be generated, transmitted, distributed, and used in real time because energy storage was not economically feasible.
This is now beginning to change.

This is good news, not only because of the over 1 billion people worldwide who continue to live without access to electricity, but also because of the enormous contribution energy storage can make to greater supply and use of clean energy.
As clean energy generation becomes more mainstream around the world, its variability and supply fluctuation begin to impact the electricity systems for which energy storage is a key factor. Storage can help even out spikes and dips in solar and wind resource availability and enable energy distribution to be shifted from the time of generation to the time of peak demand. There is no well-defined threshold level of renewable energy supply needed to ensure non-stop supply but in most cases, grid systems operators begin to invest in storage when 10 percent of their overall supply comes through renewable sources of wind and solar.
Over more than a decade, energy storage system vendors and battery manufacturers have been perfecting large-scale battery technology by extending its life cycle, toughening it to harsh environments, evolving management systems and, most importantly, continually driving down the cost. The industry has now reached a pivotal moment, with large storage systems becoming more competitive with other grid assets from a business perspective. The technology has been proven in the markets of North America and Europe, with several vendors offering competing technologies and solutions. What’s more, the capacity for installation and operation already exists. Back-of-the-envelope calculations show more and more cases of clean energy becoming viable in an ever-increasing number of markets. We can see that stationary storage has clearly begun its evolution from a niche solution to a mainstream grid asset. Nonetheless, as with solar, there is a time lag between achieving viability and mainstreaming storage with commercial partners.

According to a recent study commissioned by IFC, the World Bank’s ESMAP and the US Department of Energy, , up from today’s capacity of 5 GW, resulting in about 80 gigawatts of new storage capacity. This will open up new markets and offer tremendous opportunities.
, leading to economies of scale. It has been tracking the storage market over several years and continues to support energy storage deployment in emerging markets.

To date, we have engaged by means of early-stage venture capital investments, helping to prepare the market for mainstream investments. Some of our noteworthy investments included Microvast, a China-based manufacturer of especially fast-charging lithium-ion batteries; Fluidic Energy, a manufacturer of zinc-air batteries used to power telecom towers; and AST, from India, which deploys photovoltaic (PV) solar plus batteries to power telecom towers.
While we have observed a remarkable transformation of the market in the last couple of years, with energy storage growing to become part of the mainstream power sector in emerging markets, challenges remain for taking this to scale. Financing appears to be the most pressing of these challenges. Although energy storage costs are expected to continue decreasing in the years to come, their current levels remain relatively high, enough to restrict access to affordable financing across emerging markets. Innovative investment mechanisms, in coordination with improved industry standards and stronger government support, will be needed to unlock the transformative potential of energy storage.

. Supporting energy storage technology is a strategic focus as a means of extending the reach and uses of renewable energy beyond intermittent power. Energy storage will be a key third component in IFC’s clean energy asset mix, in addition to generation and efficiency. The World Bank Group’s Scaling Solar program, which has made it easier and faster to procure solar PV in emerging markets, may be extended to energy storage once costs fall further. Storage technology is well-suited for a similar standardized procurement approach.
Our commitment to stepping up as an advisor, investor, and partner in this important sector has never been stronger.


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