"It is important to help our children see the world from a systems perspective, tear down the silos we have built around ourselves and start connecting the dots. Basically encouraging people to think and act outside the box. Change begins with us as individuals, and I believe it is important for parents to instil in their children the courage to try to be a positive change maker in their local community. But it needs to be practical, and it can start small!"
You have recently been re-visiting Bchaaleh (Lebanon) and seen the development of the project. How was the trip?
It was very motivating to revisit the site in Bachaaleh and witness first-hand the physical manifestation of our work. In the end, what we care about is the real life impact of our work.
How does it feel to know that this project has been developing thanks to your efforts and in collaboration with ME Green, Xplora and Collectia?
As the goal of the project is to support local communities in achieving Net Zero Prosperity and implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), involving different stakeholders has been key to finding optimal solutions. The complementary role of each partner, including Xplora, allowed us to have a truly needs-driven approach, where social and technical constraints are managed holistically.
What was the original inspiration for launching the “Net Zero in 12 months” project in Lebanon?
Since 2019, Lebanon has seen an economic collapse, exasperated by the Beirut Port explosion in 2020 and the Global Pandemic. Plunging more than 50% of people into poverty, and affording the average Lebanese access to 2 hours of electricity per day. All this has left the citizens heavily dependent on the diesel-powered generators that are becoming increasingly more expensive to operate with the currency devaluation and global increase in fuel prices. Therefore, the “Net Zero in 12 months'' is a tangible way of improving the quality of life for a lot of people in the short term, while offering longer term opportunities for economic development.
Why was it important for United Cities to launch an activity campaign in partnership with Xplora and Collectia?
To fix the urban challenges facing cities and communities around the world, it is not enough to address them as technical challenges. You also need to take into account the social dimension and the local context. Xplora’s solution enables social engagement and mobilisation, fostering the ownership and understanding of the technical solutions and socially de-risking the investments in energy infrastructure.
Why do we need to involve business and citizens to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations?
The Sustainable Development Goals are centred around People, Planet and Prosperity. Hence, any sustainable transition will not be possible without the citizens/social involvement. Mobilising people and enabling a shift toward a sustainability oriented mindset is the main challenge facing sustainability, and not the technical or technological solutions. At the same time, we need the knowledge, solutions and assets of the public sector to get the job done, so there is really no substitute for partnerships if we are serious about sustainable development.
This is the largest sustainability project for Xplora so far, and Collectia has also stepped up and played an important role in this Net Zero pilot. In your opinion, how important is it to have companies and technology providers engaged in future projects United Cities engages in, and why?
United Cities supports cities and communities around the world in their sustainable transition by enabling them to realise their potential and connect to solution providers and funding. This approach provides companies access to markets and opportunities that not only make these communities more sustainable. We know investments in sustainability tend to outperform other investments over time. Sustainable development makes business sense.
What would you recommend to companies that want to get involved in future projects like the “Net Zero in 12 months” project?
Companies are always part of the societies they are serving with their products and services. Being at the forefront of development means you stay relevant, and competitive. Combining the economic ambitions with positive social and environmental impact is also a powerful way of recruiting and keeping talented people. Many of which are looking for meaning and purpose, not just a job.
We know that this project will change the life of many people in and around Bchaaleh, Lebanon. But personally, how has it changed you? What do you take away from this project?
For me there are 3 reasons why this project is important. Firstly, the practical nature of giving people access to energy is a good way to actually be a positive difference in the lives of many people, not just in theory. Secondly, I have learnt a lot about what it takes to deliver impact, meeting a lot of great people in the process. Finally, as a Lebanese, it is good to give something back to my own country.
And last but not least, if you could talk to parents of young children of today: What is the most important message we as adults should give our children when it comes to sustainable change and sustainable behaviour?
It is important to help our children see the world from a systems perspective, tear down the silos we have built around ourselves and start connecting the dots. Basically encouraging people to think and act outside the box. Change begins with us as individuals, and I believe it is important for parents to instil in their children the courage to try to be a positive change maker in their local community. But it needs to be practical, and it can start small!