Frequently Asked Questions


What is IEEE Smart Village?

IEEE Smart Village is an IEEE Foundation Signature Program whose mission is to empower off-grid communities through education and the creation of sustainable, affordable, locally owned entrepreneurial energy businesses.

What is IEEE?

IEEE, a large, global technical professional organization, is dedicated to advancing technology for the benefit of humanity. Through its highly cited publications, conferences, technology standards, and professional and educational activities, IEEE is the trusted voice on a wide variety of areas ranging from aerospace systems, computers and telecommunications to biomedical engineering, electric power and consumer electronics. Learn more at

What is the IEEE Foundation?

As the philanthropic arm of IEEE, the IEEE Foundation inspires the generosity of donors so it may enable IEEE programs that enhance technology access, literacy and education, as well as support the IEEE professional community. Learn more about the IEEE Foundation at

What does it mean to be an IEEE Foundation Signature Program?

At the heart of IEEE Foundation’s work is its menu of innovative Signature Programs — each one delivering immediate impact coupled with long-term growth in intellectual capital, human resources capacity, and technological literacy.

Signature programs are significant, have a broad impact, and inspire people to connect with the Foundation and with IEEE. These are IEEE-run public imperatives with which the Foundation partners to proactively raise external philanthropic dollars.

When was IEEE Smart Village founded?

IEEE Smart Village originally launched in 2009 as Community Solutions Initiative (CSI), to address the situation of energy poverty and billions of people with no access to the electric grid. The business and technology model was initially demonstrated in Haiti with subsequent initiatives in Nigeria, Cameroon and South Sudan. CSI was rebranded IEEE Smart Village in November 2014.

What is the mission and vision of IEEE Smart Village?

IEEE Smart Village is on mission to empower off-grid communities through education and the creation of sustainable, affordable, locally owned entrepreneurial energy businesses.

The vision of IEEE Smart Village is to bring basic electrical and educational services to more than 50 million people by 2025.

Who all is involved in IEEE Smart Village?

Combining the talents of more than 400,000 members across IEEE with sustainable-development partners in education, business and technologies, IEEE Smart Village delivers immediate, life-changing impact to the world’s poorest and most energy-deprived populations.

Who leads the Smart Village initiative

Ray Larsen, Co-founder and Co-Chair:
Special projects engineering manager, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford University in Menlo Park, California.

One of Ray’s specific areas of focus in IEEE Smart Village’s work is nurturing partnerships with local organizations to more efficiently and widely deliver equipment to the remote communities that IEEE Smart Village serves.

Robin Podmore, Co-founder and Co-Chair:
President, Incremental Systems Corp. (IncSys)

In the markets that IEEE Smart Village serves, Robin is deeply involved in helping to find local manufacturers for IEEE Smart Village’s open-source products and in encouraging industry to participate in open, consensus development of the technology-interoperability standards that are so crucially needed.

Click here for a complete list of IEEE Smart Village Executive Committee

How does IEEE Smart Village work?

Micro-utility equipment is seed-funded to in-country, non-governmental organization (NGO) partners to create self-sustaining, community-owned and -operated micro-utilities in off-grid areas where the people are typically living on less than $1 to $2 per day. The entire community participates in the success of the local electricity business, and profits are reinvested in community empowerment through economic development and learning.

What are the IEEE Smart Village fundraising goals?

Building on the success of the proven pilots, IEEE’s campaign goal is to raise a minimum of $10 million in the next three years.
The success of this initiative would support:

  • Providing access to basic electrical services for 50 million people by 2025
  • Continued innovation in the electrical systems being deployed
  • Using the success of the current pilots, a special effort to raise awareness and create excitement in schools and universities regarding the potential of engineering
  • Expanding partners involved, including governments, multinational corporations and foundations

What funding is available for Smart Village NGO partners?

Qualified NGO partners receive sufficient seed funding to start-up and demonstrate multiple installations of micro-utilities. Once technical and management competency have been demonstrated and the enterprises are on a path of self-sustainability and strong financial health, IEEE Smart Village then works with the partner to assist in securing funding for the major expansion necessary to achieve the goal of 1 million served.

What makes IEEE Smart Village different from other community development programs?

The IEEE Smart Village vision emulates the goals of many like-minded groups of building bottom-up community prosperity through training and empowering local entrepreneurs to manage profitable businesses capable of growing and serving millions of people around the world. In addition, IEEE Smart Village boasts a growing list of partners and is dedicated to leveraging basic electricity to support a variety of uses including interconnectivity and interactive web-based affordable education at many levels in off-grid areas. Further incubation of technology, business and education models is also being pursued in collaboration with sustainable development NGOs committed to providing basic electrical access to the 1.1 billion living without it.

How many people is IEEE Smart Village impacting?

IEEE Smart Village is serving more than 50,000 people in 34 villages globally.

Where does IEEE Smart Village currently have programs?

IEEE Smart Village has programs underway in Benin, Cameroon, India, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, South Sudan, and Zambia.

What countries is IEEE Smart Village considering expanding programs into?

IEEE Smart Village has identified potential partners in Burkina Faso, Gambia, as well as South Asia.



What technology has IEEE Smart Village developed?

The IEEE Smart Village flagship product is a modular, easy-to-install PV solar-based community charging station.

The SunBlazer II, a mobile solar power 1.5kW base station, is a highly adaptable unit including rechargeable battery packs and home lighting kits with an auxiliary outlet for other DC powered devices. Each kit lights up two rooms and operates auxiliary 12V DC loads. Each station can charge 80 battery packs every three to four days to serve an estimated 500 people.

The unit is designed to work with a franchise-type business model where it is leased to the energy entrepreneur and monitored and maintained by trained in-country personnel.

What are the benefits of the SunBlazer II?

The benefits of the SunBlazer II includes:

  • Optimizes simplicity of operation
  • Immediate deployment with no infrastructure at the site
  • High reliability
  • High light output suitable for a family
  • Proven affordability at lower cost than kerosene and candles
  • High pride of ownership by both operators and customers

Click here for more information on the SunBlazer II.



How does a typical initiative become established?

IEEE Smart Village seeks in-country partners mainly through IEEE members and events who can execute the program from a pilot stage which IEEE supports with the following:

  • The seed funding with startup equipment of multiple SunBlazer based micro-utilities be finically matched by the startup
  • A standard franchise business model and operating procedures
  • Central Global Classroom, online delivery system and education products
  • Standard manuals and basic training of local enterprise operators and equipment maintenance personnel
  • Professional pro-bono support of all products during the startup phase and continuing technical support and business mentoring as the local program matures

What is the “online delivery system?”

The online delivery system provides rural communities with access to online higher education services. This provides students with the convenience of staying and serving in their communities while receiving an education via the IEEE Global Classroom from the Posner Center for International Development located in Denver, Colorado, USA.

What is the role of the NGO partners?

The NGO partners establish a relationship with off-grid communities, and then recruit potential local entrepreneurs in town meetings who in turn conduct community feasibility surveys for both electricity and Learning Beyond the Light Bulb initiatives.

Community members assume responsibility, leadership and ownership of seed-funded equipment when delivered. Training materials are made available well in advance with mentorship throughout the program. Most importantly, the NGO partner endeavors to raise funds to at minimum match the IEEE investment in order that the initiative deploys multiple SunBlazer systems in several villages to demonstrate financial sustainability.

What is the goal for every new startup?

The goal for every new startup is to reach 1 million people with basic electricity in 5 years, This will take approximately 2,000 SunBlazer II systems serving 80-100 homes each; and to establish a thriving Community Based Education and Global Classroom delivery system within every community. (Each home is providing light and modest electrical power serving the needs of 5 to 6 individuals.)

IEEE Smart Village aims for at least 10 new startups per year with this goal, to reach at least 50 million people by 2025.

How will a startup grow beyond the IEEE seed funded demonstration projects?

Startup leadership is critical to success; staff must have a strong track record and local advisors. To grow rapidly, it needs capital infusion to begin the 10% growth rate. Sources are:

  • Grants from governments and foundations
  • Investment from banks or venture capitalists of an estimated $5-10M USD to grow to $30M capital assets, (necessary to achieve an installed base of 2,000 micro-utility systems, in 5-6 years).



How does the educational aspect of IEEE Smart Village work?

The IEEE Smart Village community based online curriculum, Learning Beyond the Light Bulb, is designed to enable at-risk and in-excess populations to both learn from and instruct each other for mutual benefit.

How is the community based education structured?

Learning Beyond the Light Bulb is a nine-month program of study that includes five courses using push-pull community-based global content from the IEEE Smart Village global classroom at the Posner Center for International Development in Denver, Colorado.

One of the best aspects of the educational program, Learning Beyond the Light Bulb participants need not leave their communities, families and development work in order to join a comprehensive course of study.

What are the conditions for community based education partnering?

  • Conducive instructional environment for a defined community
  • Applied knowledge for that community’s development
  • One computer screen that all may view + connectivity
  • Commitment to the discourse of online global pods
  • Shared case studies and field-based practicum
  • Commitment to support all community participants through completion of four core courses + practicum

What is the vocational training component of IEEE Smart Village?

IEEE Smart Village uses a systematic approach for vocational training on electricity applications as it divides a process into simple tasks and eliminates any nonessential content.

The IEEE Smart Village vocational training allows the energy entrepreneur, who is the operator of the local micro-utility, to quickly absorb and competently introduce business offerings to their local customers.

Local jobs are created. Family businesses are fueled. Income is increased at various levels throughout the community.

What is an Energy Entrepreneur?

Energy Entrepreneurs are the operators and managers of the local SunBlazer micro utility business. They are people with a passion to solve local problems in their off-grid communities and see the provision of electrical energy as a critical path to their community growth and success. Energy Entrepreneurs come from all walks of life and are more than likely motivated and hard working individuals who, regardless of their education or background, have demonstrated that they have an ability to tackle a problem and stick with it until a solution is found. In other words, these folks have grit, determination and an innate intelligence with sensitivities for the local community, its needs and abilities.

How can I become an Energy Entrepreneur?

Join the IEEE Smart Village’s Energy Entrepreneurship Training Program. It offers in-country vocational training to deliver the ins and outs of the design, assembly and operation of a micro-utility in all its varied forms, as well as education in all aspects of the business model. The curriculum provides the comprehensive understanding of the principles of business operation on which successful realization of a self-sustaining micro-utility depends. Beyond contributing strictly to financial success and sustainability, however, the graduates of the program, also known as Energy Entrepreneurs, are uniquely encouraged to focus on social enterprise, humanitarian needs and the building of ethical and non-exploitative relationships.


How to Get Involved

What is an IEEE Smart Village Ambassador?

An IEEE Smart Village Ambassador can assist in-country. Whether it is corporate to corporate and high level government liaison, or boots-on-the ground village field work helping to deploy hardware and educate the village community, opportunities abound at all levels to promote a true social enterprise endeavor.

Contact IEEE Smart Village for more information on how to become involved:

What are the ways to get involved with IEEE Smart Village?

  • For recognized multi-national NGO’s, large humanitarian organizations, government ministries and associated programs, become an acknowledged ‘brand’ partner with IEEE Smart Village in a coordinated effort to reach mutual goals for global expansion of the initiative.
  • For in-country NGOs and other organizations with established humanitarian outreach programs, become an in-country host partner to establish a network of micro-utility stations nationwide.
  • For individuals with a passion and desire to work toward solving the problem of energy deprivation across the off-grid and unreliable energy sector, become an advocate for the program.
  • For students and young professionals seeking the experience of working in the field to assist and mentor our micro-utility deployment programs, become an Ambassador to the program (like Fulbright Scholarship).