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Rising temperatures threaten lives and livelihoods around the world. From cities to remote villages, South Asian innovators are tackling the threat – working hand-in-hand with the communities in greatest danger. At Ashden, a climate solutions charity, we’re calling for more support for these pioneering organisations. Philanthropy has a crucial role to play. But what are these outstanding solutions – and how are they changing lives?
Indoor heat makes work and rest impossible
In low-income urban neighbourhoods, high indoor temperatures threaten people’s health and their ability to study, sleep and earn a living. Women – most likely to work or spend time indoors – are at greatest risk. Few can afford air conditioning (which is itself a big driver of global heating).
Innovators tackling the problem include Mahila Housing Trust, winner of the 2021 Ashden Award for Cooling in Informal Settlements. The trust’s community-centred approach helps women in India’s cities come together and tackle social challenges. This includes giving them the knowledge and affordable finance to invest in sustainable cooling solutions – like new roofs and solar-reflective paint.
The women supported include Vimala Prajapati, a 39-year-old mother of three from Bhopal. She says: “We are feeling more comfortable on summer days. There is no more need to sit outside the home to get rid of the temperature. Now I can work continuously in the kitchen and spare more time for my tailoring work.”
The trust also helps women call for action from city and regional authorities. Across South Asia, public housebuilding programmes are creating millions of homes – but many programmes are not paying attention to affordable, sustainable cooling.
Another solution poised to make an impact comes from Pakistan’s GeoAirCon. Their cooling system circulates fluid round a loop of underground piping, where the liquid is naturally chilled. This cooled fluid is then pumped to the surface where it is used to create cold air in people’s homes. The system can maintain indoor temperatures of 26C when it is 40C outside, and the energy needed is about 30% of that demanded by a typical air conditioning system.
That’s why cooling innovators cBalance are consulting heavily with low-income communities in Pune and Bangalore about how cooling solutions can meet their needs, as the organisation develop new products and approaches to tackle the problem. Crucially, cBalance is bringing communities together with trainee architects and engineers – breaking down barriers between academic curriculums and the needs and experiences of marginalised people.
Sustainable cold chain for India’s farmers
cBalance are members of Ashden’s Fair Cooling Fund, backed by the Clean Cooling Collaborative, which is providing grants and other support to seven cooling innovators around the world. Two other Indian fund members are tackling an enormous cooling challenge – smallholder farmers’ lack of access to cold storage.
In Maharashtra, Promethean Power Systems have developed solar-powered milk collection points for dairy farming communities. Villagers with just a few cows or buffalo can use these to sell their milk into regional supply chains, boosting their incomes significantly.
Women have long had a key role in dairy farming in the state, and they are now finding new roles managing this village-level collection process. Promethean works with a partner NGO, Swayam Shikshan Prayog, to maximise the social impact of their work.
Another Indian cold chain innovator involved in the fund is Ecozen. It has helped the company develop a smaller version of their Ecofrost sustainable cold store room, more accessible to farmers on lower incomes. The units can be moved to different sites from week to week, as different crops are harvested.
As well as making digital monitoring a key part of their product, both Promethean and Ecozen are also connecting farmers with affordable finance and strengthening connections with buyers. The businesses are doing much more than providing technologies – they are supporting entire ecosystems for marginalised food producers.
Philanthropy can be spearhead for change – and send cooling up the development agenda
Philanthropic investment can play a pivotal role supporting cooling innovators. These organisations offer practical, proven, financially sustainable solutions to the challenges of extreme heat. But their choice to serve the most marginalised communities can be discouraging for mainstream investors, because of the financial risks it brings. Philanthropic capital is well placed to support cutting-edge solutions in their early stages, helping them prove their impact.
We have seen ourselves the power of early investment to trigger further activity – our own fund’s grants and support have already unlocked an additional $1.37 million investment in the fund members, before our programme has even ended.
Philanthropic activity can also help mainstream cooling as a development priority. Even though cooling is crucial to tackling health, poverty, gender equality and other issues, it is rarely a focus for development organisations and funders. With temperatures rising, it’s important we work with communities to scale up solutions now – ready for the challenges of a warmer world.