emory-wire

Power to the People

Sandra Kwak 04C is improving the lives of women and bringing economic justice to communities that lack electricity. The company she founded, 10Power, is energizing all operations at the UNICEF Haiti headquarters.

By Sandra Kwak 04C as told to Taylor McNair 16B

Thanks to an influential fourth-grade teacher and an auspiciously placed book on climate change in the classroom library, I discovered the pressing issues of global warming at an early age.

My activist spirit bloomed early on, beginning in that very same elementary school classroom when I convinced the school to allow me to publish a zine and give a school-wide presentation on climate change. I’ve always tried to stir the pot by starting something new, but it wasn’t until grad school that I launched my first energy company.

My journey into the clean energy world was logical, leading me to found my current company, 10Power, a social enterprise that provides commercial scale solar installations in communities lacking access to electricity, starting in Haiti. After grad school, I founded a start-up in the emerging field of “smart buildings” where we used a data-driven approach to improve the efficiency of commercial buildings. From there I worked in the smart grid space, helping utilities balance supply and demand in real-time. While this venture left me environmentally satisfied with the work of reducing carbon emissions associated with energy generation, I still felt a need to directly address the social injustices blossoming around the world.

As I planned my next step, I reflected on a grad school program working with rural farmers in Nicaragua. Seeing the life and death difference that a single watt of electricity can make for an individual, particularly in a place that doesn’t have access to clean energy or clean water, the possibilities for transformative sustainable development really grabbed my heart. Weary of Silicon Valley culture, I realized that I was capable of making a greater positive impact on the world and leapt into the world of sustainable development.

A deep data dive led me to uncover a strange anomaly in energy equity throughout the world—a handful of countries have incredibly high energy costs, with unusually low access to energy. Haiti was at the top of this list. I had a big picture idea to create a model of international human development that was environmentally regenerative, provided clean energy and water, built local economic opportunity, respected gender empowerment, and, simply put, began to build the future world I wanted to live in, without compromise. And thus, 10Power was born.

 

Solar Panels for Haiti

10Power is a commercial scale solar developer that provides project installation, engineering, and financing. We’ve put solar panels on water purification facilities that provide clean water to micro-enterprise centers that support over 300 majority woman-led startups.

Just recently, we installed the largest clean energy project on any UNICEF base in the world, the first project to include both solar and energy storage capacity capable of powering all operations at the UNICEF Haiti headquarters.

And we are checking off a wide ranging list of sustainable development goals. By partnering with local installers and maintaining a Haitian-based workforce, 10Power strengthens the economy and provides much needed jobs to local communities. In Haiti, we work with five local installers responsible for about 50 local jobs each. Solar and energy storage installations provide a clean and reliable source of energy for businesses and organizations, in turn enabling them to more effectively serve surrounding communities.

And we launched a new program to train female solar installers, encouraging and supporting women’s participation in the emerging green energy economy. Gender empowerment is a crucial component of 10Power’s work, because when we create the economic and social conditions for women to thrive, we create the conditions for society as a whole to thrive.

In many ways, my journey through Emory helped seed some of the inspiration driving me today. I was a rebellious kid, and when I came to Emory, I quickly found my group of renegades on campus and spoke out against global injustices. With an undergrad experience defined by underground organizing, student protests, sculpture graffiti, and campaigning, which eventually led to the creation of Emory’s first arts major, I got just as much out of Emory on the extracurricular side as the academic.

My rebellious streak, fostered through my organizing days at Emory, has made me unafraid to speak truth to power. Over time I have recognized that I can’t swim against the stream and change the system, but have to climb out of the river and start building a new tributary to divert the flow, that in order to drive the massive changes that the climate crisis demands, I need to make a change from within. As the inventor and visionary Buckmister Fuller said “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” With 10Power, we’re doing just that.

According to The World Bank, Haiti is the second most difficult place in the world to do business, and knowing that, I feel incredibly grateful of the team we’ve built and the work we’re doing. 10Power currently has over $100 million in potential customers in Haiti, with projects ranging into the megawatt size as we scale our business. The company is currently putting together a blended finance round, and having secured debt and equity financing, is searching for philanthropic capital to catalyze our next portfolio of high social and environmental impact solar investments.

10Power is building a model for sustainable development, providing clean energy and clean water, empowering gender equality, spurring economic development, and building the future we want to live in without compromising the ability of our natural systems to provide for us.

Sandra Kwak

Sandra Kwak 04C

Editor's Note: Sandra Kwak 04C is CEO and Founder of social business 10Power, which is providing commercial-grade renewable energy internationally to communities that lack access to electricity. In Haiti, 10Power has provided project development and financing for solar water purification centers, health organizations, and major international organizations. Previously Sandra worked with AutoGrid creating energy saving apps for utilities using smart meter Big Data, scaling the company from prototype to a global brand. At Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) Utility, Sandra helped implement the ClimateSmart program. She has a Sustainable MBA from Presidio Graduate School, a BA in Political Science and Visual Arts from Emory University, taught 'Race, Activism and Climate Justice' at San Francisco State University, and guest lectures at CCA and Stanford. Sandra sees renewable energy as the key to providing clean water, gender empowerment, and access to regenerative technology.

The Emory Alumni Environmental Network seeks to connect alumni with a shared interest in preserving our environment, through identifying and encouraging careers in sustainability.