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Difference Maker

Tri Mumpuni Iskandar builds small hydro plants to bring electricity to Indonesian villages

A petite entrepreneur wants to bring hydropower to the 90 million Indonesians without electricity.

By Correspondent / October 10, 2011

Tri Mumpuni Iskandar (front row, second from r., with villagers in Aceh, Indonesia) developed microhydro projects that have already delivered electricity – and all that comes with it – to half a million Indonesians. She aims to get power to the 90 million who are still without it.

Courtesy of IBEKA

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Jakarta, Indonesia

It takes a lot of energy to keep up with Tri Mumpuni Iskandar, which seems fitting given her passion: to electrify poor, rural communities across Indonesia's sprawling 3,200-mile-long archipelago.

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The charismatic director of the People Centered Business and Economic Institute (IBEKA), a nongovernmental organization that develops small hydropower projects, stays on the run.

Recently she visited a village in West Java on a Thursday; returned to Jakarta, the capital, on the weekend; and then embarked midweek for a 10-day tour of Europe and the United States.

Ms. Mumpuni, who goes by "Puni," says she loves to be out in the villages. But lately she spends much of her time traveling between places like San Francisco and New York, delivering lectures and drumming up donor support for her social enterprise.

On Aug. 31, Mumpuni was one of six recipients of the 2011 Ramon Magsaysay Award, which honors Asians committed to public service.

Others sing her praises, too. During a regional entrepreneurship summit in July, Indonesian Trade Minister Mari Pangestu recognized Mumpuni for her commitment to reducing poverty.

The petite entrepreneur hopes all the attention will help her bring electricity to the 90 million Indonesians without it.

"This technology can be very powerful," says Mumpuni, who calls microhydropower the trigger for community development. "If we make microhydro run properly, we generate electricity. If we generate electricity, we can generate other economic activities."

Villages can use the evening hours for studying or earning a living, such as making handicrafts, she says.

In the communities where IBEKA works, people now have access to radio, television, even the Internet.

"We can see the world now," says Yoyoyoyo Gasmana, a beneficiary of IBEKA's hydropower project in Cipta Gelar, southwest Java. "Ibu Puni has really helped us advance and develop by bringing technology to our traditional villages."

Most of IBEKA's 50 microhydro projects are built in rough terrain, such as high mountain passes or national forests far removed from roads and power lines. They each generate between 5 and 400 kilowatts of energy, enough to power up to 800 households. Collectively, they bring power to half a million people.

For Mumpuni, the most important aspect of IBEKA's work is promoting community ownership, connecting villagers to grants and loans, providing them with technical know-how, and helping them form a cooperative to manage their project.

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