New Solutions for
Rural Development and Integration

Power, communications, health, and education
to off-the-grid villages

By Jock Gill

written for the Buckminster Fuller Institute,
January 2001


Even after 120 years of central power stations and electric wires, two billion people on our planet are without electricity. Aware of the design inadequacies in the power system, Greenstar was launched in 1997 as the result of asking a simple question: if two billion people have no electricity, why are clean, renewable, photovoltaic (PV) solar panels not flying off the shelf?

An obvious solution to off-grid power needs is solar power. Yet the typical program for introducing solar home kits in these areas fail because they create credit debt or leasing obligations rather than increased prosperity.

A comprehensive and sustainable solution must address several issues simultaneously: power, communications, literacy, and health, including water safety and vaccinations. Greenstar's solution delivers a debt-free, culture-preserving, growth-stimulating design to off-grid communities.

Greenstar has designed a portable community center comprised of a small medical clinic with basic equipment and telemedicine connections, a classroom, and a satellite dish, or wireless link to the Internet, all powered by solar energy. These services are delivered as an investment in the community without imposing debt, leasing burdens, or other obligations. They can be housed in existing buildings if they are available.

Once the community center is in place, Greenstar works with local musicians, teachers, and art professionals to record the rich and dynamic voices of the community, using a range of digital media. The resulting celebration of village culture is designed, controlled, and owned by the residents. Greenstar packages these "digital culture" materials for world markets. Revenues fund an ongoing, community-driven array of literacy, local business, education, training, public health, and environmental programs.

Greenstar's approach provides new jobs, training, and skills, strengthens local culture and language, increases the cash flow in the village, pays for capital costs, and returns a profit to investors. Ultimately, villagers own the Center themselves, and become shareholders in Greenstar. The result is the successful and appropriate integration of traditional, rural, indigenous economies with the new global economy.

To date, ongoing installations are in a remote Bedouin settlement on the West Bank; in a small community in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica, and the central Indian village of Parvatapur, which is the first of 50 planned sites in India. New projects are planned for Brazil, Tibet and over 60 other off-grid communities around the world.

Greenstar's goal is to build a network of people, skills, ideas, tools, and cultural voices that will be of incalculable value to all the people of the world -- and especially to the families of the villages with whom they partner.

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