Ideas to Action:

Independent research for global prosperity


Views from the Center


Energy access is getting a lot of attention lately from the development community. The ONE Campaign has been pushing for aggressive action to fight energy poverty. President Obama launched Power Africa in June 2013 as his signature development initiative of the second term (and the effort with the greatest potential to be his Africa policy legacy). The proposed post-2015 Sustainable Development Goal Seven even says “Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.” This all makes eminent sense, since energy is crucial to achieving lots of other development goals, such as improved health, better education, and job creation. 

What’s more surprising is how little attention energy access for the poor has gotten from many private philanthropies.  The Nathan Cummings Foundation has an energy access program that is supporting policy research at CGD and the Rockefeller Foundation recently launched a new “Smart Power” initiative for minigrids in India.  But given the scale of the problem —1.3 billion people living today without electricity — it’s striking there aren’t a lot more donors getting into the mix.  

That’s also the conclusion of this terrific article, “Why Energy Philanthropy Is High-Impact Philanthropy” by Rachel Pritzker and Mike Berkowitz in the Stanford Social Innovation Review:

We have come to believe that energy is not — and cannot be seen as — just an environmental issue: It is fundamental to the wide array of issues that contemporary philanthropy is concerned with, including health, education, women's empowerment, and poverty.... Yet within organized philanthropy, energy is largely relegated to the purview of environmental funders. Even among sophisticated donors, very few seem to consider the relevance of energy to their non-environmental issue interests.

Pritzker of the Pritzker Innovation Fund (and a member of the CGD Partners Council) and Berkowitz from Third Plateau suggest four ways for even modest philanthropists to support energy access: research, policy, innovation, and selective last mile service delivery. They conclude:

We initially got involved in energy because of climate change, but we remain engaged because of the myriad other issues it encompasses. We hope to build a community of funders who likewise recognize that energy is fundamental to the causes they care about.

I hope they succeed in creating a circle of like-minded energy philanthropists. Read the whole article here.  


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.