Supporting the Development of Solar Technologies in Uganda


In rural Uganda, where electrification is rare, villagers turn to dangerous and costly fuel sources like kerosene, wood, or diesel to provide light or electrical power via generators.  This ongoing expense is a burden that limits the ability of businesses to operate and students to study after the sun sets.  Solar power has the potential to make Ugandan village life safer and healthier while boosting productivity for local businesses and expanding educational opportunities for children.

However as Paola De Cecco knows, if new technologies are introduced to rural areas in developing countries without capable technicians to service them they will never take hold.  Paola is a Senior Lecturer at the Nsamizi Training Institute of Social Development in Uganda and teaches courses intended to provide locals with the technical and business skills to start businesses selling and servicing solar technologies in rural areas.


The electronics that Paola’s students were learning to build were put into casings made of wood.  Unfortunately, this ma

de the electronics look crude and unreliable which kept people from buying them.  Paola discovered that a local company called Village Energy shared both her goal of promoting a viable market for solar electronics and her problem of lack of interest in the finished products.  Village Energy had been casing their electronics in aluminum and experiencing the same skepticism about the quality of their products.

Paola and the founders of Village Energy decided to work together to solve this problem and realized that they could use 3D printers to produce casings that would be durable and look professional.  They purchased one 3D printer and with the help of ReAllocate, were donated two 3D printers from Printrbot.


However, they soon began to experience problems with the printers that required someone to attend to them throughout the long printing process.  They also found that they were having a hard time designing more complex pieces such as latches and hinges.  They realized that they needed help from experts who could teach them how to solve these problems and expand the scope of their 3D printing skills.Paola, along with two volunteers, Frank Kyaligaba and Suleiman, set about learning to use the 3D printers despite the fact that none of them had any formal mechanical engineering training.  They were initially successful and printed attractive casings for a solar device designed to provide light as well as charge a mobile phone.

Having already established a relationship with ReAllocate, Paola and Village Energy knew it could be a resource to provide just the kind of talent they needed.  ReAllocate acts as a marketplace for worthy causes and volunteers with unique skills to find each other and accomplish something truly meaningful together.

ReAllocate was able to connect the group in Uganda to Emi Watanabe and Andrew Maxwell-Parish.  Emi is a product designer and Andrew is a mechanical engineer, both with extensive 3D printing experience and both eager to harness their expertise for the greater good.

With assistance from ReAllocate, Emi and Andrew organized a successful crowdfunding campaign and raised the funds needed to provide hands-on help in Uganda.  On December 23, 2013 Emi and Andrew boarded flights carrying 3D printer replacement parts and prepared to spend three weeks providing Village Energy with the training they need.


A Currency and a Hackathon with a Purpose

The idea for Bay Bucks, a complementary currency for the San Francisco Bay Area, came to Dr. Chong Kee Tan in the wake of the 2008 Financial Crisis.  Complementary currencies exist as a complement to a conventional currency such as the US dollar but are designed to address specific issues.  In this case the goal was to build a resilient and just economy that would promote a sense of community as well as support local businesses.

Having decided that a complementary currency would be of service to the Bay Area community, Dr. Tan and Kendra Shanley co-founded Bay Bucks and began recruiting businesses to participate.  The initial goal was to establish a strong business-to-business network in advance of rolling out Bay Bucks to consumers and they enrolled over 100 business members who actively use Bay Bucks.

To build on their initial successes and prepare Bay Bucks for eventual use by local consumers, Tan and Shanley knew they would need to develop a mobile app that would allow for convenient and secure payment of this digital currency.

ReAllocate and Hacktivations

The Bay Area has an abundance of talent when it comes to something like building a mobile app.  While most of this valuable resource of talent is directed towards for-profit endeavors, some of the programmers who’ve developed these skills have a desire to use their expertise to support causes they believe in.

Connecting world class talent to real world problems is the goal of ReAllocate.  One way that ReAllocate fosters this connection is through their Hacktivations.  A Hacktivation is similar to a Hackathon, but with a few important differences.

At a traditional hackathon people come together to pitch ideas, form into groups around the best ideas, and then write the code to make that idea a reality within a short period of time.  A Hacktivation, on the other hand, is about providing programmers with a way to volunteer that maximizes the value of their contribution and provides organizations like Bay Bucks with the help they need to achieve their goals.

June 8th Hacktivation

On June 8th, 2013 ReAllocate hosted a Hacktivation at which Bay Bucks worked with volunteers Weston McBride and Dona Williams to begin developing their mobile app.  Without wasting any time on pitching ideas, like in a hackathon, the programmers and Bay Bucks co-founders got right to work and made substantial progress.  By the end of the Hacktivation they had the basis of a mobile app, an accomplishment McBride and Williams could be proud of and a significant advancement for Bay Bucks.

A call for ReAllocators

The next step for Bay Bucks is to move the mobile app into beta and begin testing it among its business members.  To do this, they need assistance from iOS Developers.  They are hoping to meet this need at a future Hacktivation or through working with people they connect to through the ReAllocate community.  If you are an iOS developer and would like to help make Bay Bucks’ founders’ vision a reality please contact Dr. Chong Kee Tan directly at [email protected].  If you want to reallocate your skills in some other way, sign up at