Recent grad seeks to make a difference for her country through solar energy
While Brigitte Lim was working on her applied project to promote employment in her home country of the Philippines through solar energy, she stumbled upon an opportunity to amplify her project’s reach.
Lim heard about the Geneva Challenge: Advancing Development Goals international contest while she was taking an international development elective course in Spring 2017. Seeing that the competition’s theme was solving challenges of employment, it was an easy choice to apply with the work she had already started.
“I thought I’d enter this competition to get the word out about my idea,” said Lim, a recent graduate of the Solar Energy Engineering and Commercialization professional science master’s program (PSM SEEC) at Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.
Little did she know where this opportunity would take her. With the help of a team of international and interdisciplinary graduate students, a passion for solar energy and a desire to make a difference in her community, she would end up catching the attention of a United Nations program.
Journey to a solar future
After completing her bachelor’s degree in management of applied chemistry at the Ateneo de Manila University, Philippines, Lim went to work as a Teach for Philippines fellow, working for two years to help transform education in the country. It was a good way to pursue her passion for teaching, and she made some good connections with others interested in social action in her country.
When it came time to start her master’s, Lim was interested in environmental science and solar energy in particular. Not finding any programs close to home that supported her goals, she set out in search for a graduate program that supported her goals. She found her way to ASU through a scholarship called STRIDE offered through the United States Agency for International Development for Filipino students looking for professional science master’s programs.
“ASU had the most relevant program for me because it wasn’t just the physics of solar cells,” Lim explained. “It was more business and applied photovoltaics, how the technology works, how to market it and commercialize it.”
ASU’s PSM SEEC program considers applications from students with any science, technology, engineering or mathematics background, making this unique ASU degree program a perfect fit for Lim. As part of the program, Lim participated in an energy policy seminar in Washington, D.C., attended international solar energy conferences, interned voluntarily with GRID Alternatives over the summers and installed residential solar photovoltaic systems with GRID Alternatives as part of Solar Spring Break.
“These opportunities made available through the PSM SEEC program let us see solar outside of the classroom, and I feel like that is very beneficial because you’re learning by actual interaction with industry,” Lim said.
This experience helped her see how the solar industry could be beneficial to communities in the Philippines, and she got to work on her applied project.
Putting her ideas out there
After first hearing about the Geneva Challenge, she saw that it was actually a group competition for graduate students. So, Lim reached out to some former colleagues from her days working with Teach for Philippines: Anna Gabrielle Alejo, a graduate student studying developmental psychology at the Columbia University Teacher’s College, Jerome Bactol, a candidate for a master’s in community development at the University of the Philippines and project development officer of the Philippines’ Department of Social Welfare and Development, and Jose Eos Trinidad, a recent graduate who studied social sciences at the University of Chicago and is now working as a researcher of the Ateneo de Manila University’s Institute for the Science and Art of Learning and Teaching.
Combined with her knowledge of opportunities throughout the value chain of the solar industry, these colleagues helped to expand upon additional social theories and local government program opportunities related to employment and underserved communities.
Together over Skype from Tempe, New York City, Chicago and Manila, they worked hard over the summer to build upon Lim’s base project for the competition’s requirements.
They created Solar N3E: Solar Network for Energy Education and Employment, a social enterprise that integrates research, training and networking to expand employment opportunities in the Philippines through the solar industry.
The project’s goal is to minimize in-work poverty, urban unemployment and the number of youths who are not in education, employment or training. With the help of government programs in education, Solar N3E will help marginalized community members get the training they need to find employment in the nation’s growing solar energy industry.
A roller coaster of a final semester
After all their hard work, in August they received an “email of disappointment” saying they didn’t make it to the semifinal round, Lim said. Happy they had tried, Lim got back to work on her PSM SEEC applied project and job searching as her graduation date neared.
Then in November, Lim and her teammates received an email saying they had actually won the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) Youth Prize.
The Geneva Challenge partnered with the UN SDSN Youth Prize to award a special prize to three additional Geneva Challenge teams for the first time in 2017.
The Solar N3E project joined two other international teams’ projects to solve employment challenges in North and South Africa that were recognized as part of the new prize.
These projects will be showcased on the Youth Solutions Report platform, which puts youth-led solutions project in front of a network of institutional partners, experts, private companies and media outlets to gain potential supporters, investors and donors.
A future of possibilities
After graduating, Lim will return home and get to work on filling out the details of Solar N3E for the Youth Solutions Report platform, and begin working as a business developer at Japan Solar back in Manila, Philippines.
After her Geneva Challenge run stopped short, she was fully invested in beginning her work in industry, but she can now also further her work to implement Solar N3E.
“I think working with Japan Solar is not bad for trying to implement my idea because having this job helps me interact with competitors and the customers the solar industry serves,” Lim said. “I can immerse myself in the local industry, which makes the plan more feasible.”