Interview with Rene Geneva, Powering Independence through Solar

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Rene Geneva has worn multiple (and stylish!) hats over the years. Whole Planet Foundation has benefitted from Rene’s generosity since the late 2000s and now that she is starting her own Indiegogo Campaign, she is once again investing in a future without poverty by supporting Whole Planet Foundation with a percentage of sales. See below for an excerpt from a recent interview our Development and Outreach Director conducted with Rene this fall. Full transcript can be found here on 3BL media.

rene geneva indie solar

What has been your inspiration to support women entrepreneurs?

My first “fair trade” sewing experience was when I worked with a small family factory in Pakistan that didn’t allow women to work for them. Somehow, being paid a fair wage became only a detail in a bigger picture. I began working with the Fair Trade Zone and other women’s cooperatives in Central America and over the decades have seen families and their communities grow into a modern age, where healthcare and education are finally available. They have steady and skilled employment, and generations are being set up for a better future. Let’s get real… there are too many places with no sewage, water, or electricity, black tarp homes, and seemingly little hope. Yet there is a movement of pioneers, including women raised in these communities, that are brave enough to say, “There’s better out there and together we’re going to make it happen”. It is an honor to be involved – because together we ARE making this world a better place.

Why did you pursue Indie Solar?

That list up there of community improvements? Healthcare, education… Notice electricity hasn’t made the guest list. For reasons,

  1. Solar is expensive, like, super expensive.
  2. Solar is smart, like, you have to understand a holy-moly amount of stuff to design off-grid solar and battery based systems that work.
  3. Solar is so heavy. PV panels, 50lbs; inverters, 100lbs; batteries, 150lbs! One community I visited had a solar array accessed by 4X4ing a wet-weather creek bed + climbing over a ravine only after trekking about 3 miles on foot. A whole solar array was installed out there – all 3500lbs. Heavy = shipping + logistics nightmare.

Indie Solar gives me a sense of purpose to make solar pv better and bring more of it into the world. When I started Indie Solar in 2010, specializing in off-grid and mobile systems, there were only a handful of competitors worldwide and we’re likely friends. The high end clients we serve (think, Willie Nelson) have been willing to invest the amount of money it currently takes to make solar power a reality in our first world. Which in turn, has allowed us to develop revolutionary solar technology that is affordable.

Why incorporate Whole Planet Foundation as your charitable giving?

Whole Planet Foundation embodies what Indie Solar is trying to achieve with the VANOPY: create independent communities through empowering entrepreneurs with the means and skills to work. I imagine a world where women can use their microcredit opportunity to make a business with our Vanopies – by setting up an off-grid, solar-powered charging kiosk for communities with little to no electricity. A solar powered generator that uses our Vanopies can weigh hundreds of pounds less than what’s available to them today. Together, Indie Solar, Whole Planet Foundation and those who join the effort can empower entrepreneurs, one solar panel at a time.

What makes the Vanopy special in that it fuels your desire for independence for you and your family and other families?

The VANOPY is a means to freedom. Freedom to roam with your own power center, work from the road, help disaster areas, and give entrepreneurs the means to create a new business. The more we grow, the more jobs we create, and the more we’re able to give back.

The making of the Vanopy includes using advanced technology and that means playing with robots – which is too cool.  It also means coming together with leading minds and making a true and legit difference. It took four years of product development, from the solar cell up, listening to advisors, test marketing, 3 years of product beta testing, and over $60,000 in sales to bring the Vanopy to market. That’s a whole lot of exciting and it’s been easy to be optimistic, even through the difficult periods (like when our first solar cell provider went belly-up and we had to restart at square one). We’re surrounded by friends, family, and clients that fiercely support our mission and motivate us to grow in a way that is consistent with our core values.

What’s your advice to aspiring entrepreneurs who want to embed a cause in their business strategy?

Know your business, know your customer base, and bring on a cause that is mutually beneficial to your goals and aligns with your values. Then have a detailed plan.

Learn more about the Vanopy and join Indie Solar’s Indiegogo Campaign supporting Whole Planet Foundation. Read the full interview here on 3BL media.

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