What does a Rotary Global Grant Scholar do?

This item was written for the Rotary Foundation newsletter in Britain and Ireland. It was written in June 2018 and published in August 2018.

Hello, my name is Gideon Laux – I am a current Rotary Scholar sponsored by District 1842 in Munich, Germany, and studying for a master’s in development economics at the University of Oxford (Somerville College). The focus of my studies is how entrepreneurship can create jobs and contribute to poverty alleviation in low- and middle-income countries.

Having worked with a number of charities and social enterprises across Europe, as well as in Tanzania and Nepal, over the past five years, I learned how difficult it is to ensure that well-intentioned social initiatives actually lead to sustainable, long-term change. For instance, after the devastating earthquakes in Nepal in 2015, I travelled there with a few other volunteers to help rebuild a school. However, because we were not experienced builders and struggled with the unfamiliar, mountainous conditions, in hindsight it would have been much more effective to donate the money we spent on flights to a local organisation that could have hired local, experienced builders, thus making the funds go further and creating jobs along the way.

There are many such examples of well-intentioned – but ultimately misguided – initiatives in the field of economic development. I strongly believe that, to bring about long-term, sustainable development and remove the need for further aid inflows from countries like the UK, once and for all, we need to be supporting talented local entrepreneurs to grow the businesses that will deliver essential products and services to the world’s most underserved communities, and create a future for their employees in the process.

This is why I have started a social enterprise that will empower local shopkeepers in India to provide electricity to rural, off-grid villages. Currently, nearly 200 million people in India rely on kerosene for lighting, which has the same health effects as smoking 40 cigarettes per day. With our solution, they will be able to light their homes, as well as charge their phones, using clean, safe, and green solar-based electricity.

After I finish my degree in June, my team and I will be piloting our model in Odisha, India, and are currently fundraising the remaining £18,000 that we need to turn this idea into a reality (having already raised £10,000 through grants and competitions).

Had I not been supported by Rotarians to allow me to complete my master’s in the UK, this social enterprise would never have been started. I now hope that members of the Rotary will continue to back me as I seek to pay your support forward to the most disadvantaged communities in India. Please consider making a contribution to our crowd-funding campaign at this link: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/empowerenergy/