Girl Up - woman carrying wood Malawi

Bill and Melinda Gates’ must-read “annual letter” came out today, and once again it provides an insightful look at the global development issues that must be tackled in order to end poverty. This year, it’s great to see them focus on two challenges that need more attention: the absence of time and energy from the lives of more than 1 billion people around the world.

This year’s letter is addressed to students, whose innovation and ideas will be key to solving problems in the coming decades, and highlights how the “superpowers” of “more time” and “more energy” can enable people around the world to move from poverty to prosperity. As the letter notes:

“Poverty is not just about a lack of money. It’s about the absence of the resources the poor need to realize their potential. Two critical ones are time and energy.

“More than one billion people today live without access to energy. No electricity to light and heat their homes, power hospitals and factories, and improve their lives in thousands of ways. 

“Likewise, a lack of time creates obstacles too. It’s not simply the feeling of not having enough hours in the day. It’s the crippling effect of having to perform the backbreaking work that needs to get done when there’s no electricity.

“More time. More energy. As superpowers go, they may not be as exciting as Superman’s ability to defy gravity. But if the world can put more of both into the hands of the poorest, we believe it will allow millions of dreams to take flight.”

Super Solutions

The good news is that the international community has committed to addressing these issues as part of the Sustainable Development Goals that were adopted last year. 

And the even better news is that we already have a number of solutions that can make a difference. Here are a few you should know about:

– Clean cookstoves and fuels: Around the world, about 3 billion people make their meals by burning solid fuels and using open fires and traditional cookstoves. Girls and women can spend hours gathering fuel to burn, and then inhale cooking smoke that endangers their health and contributes to climate change. 

Clean cookstoves and fuels save women time and money – and protect their health and the health of the planet. The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves works to create a thriving market for clean cookstoves and fuels. Learn more about the issue and the Alliance’s work by following @cookstoves on Twitter.

– Off-grid clean energy technologies: These technologies, from solar lamps to micro-grids, help connect families and communities to energy services, which allow children to study at night, entrepreneurs to keep working after dark, household work to get done more quickly, and so much more. Just as important, they expand access to energy without worsening climate change, which threatens to undo our gains against poverty. 

As part of the UN’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative, the UN Foundation launched the Energy Access Practitioner Network, which has brought together more than 2,000 members that are working to deliver clean, reliable, and affordable energy to people around the world. To learn more about the work of its members, follow @energyaccessPN on Twitter.

Empowering girls and women. Expanding economic opportunities. Improving health and education. Fighting climate change. For all these reasons, clean energy technologies and clean cookstoves and fuels are super solutions to help end poverty. 

To achieve the world’s agenda for a sustainable future, we need to make sure these solutions reach more people. It’s a big challenge, but it’s also a big opportunity to improve lives. 

The UN Foundation’s Founder and Chairman Ted Turner has long been familiar with super powers as one of the creators of Captain Planet. He often reminds us that we each have the power of change, saying: “You do not have to be a world leader – or even a billionaire – to make an impact. If we are going to turn things around, we all need to do our part to make it happen. Change starts with you.”

We hope you will learn more about these issues, and join us in helping people everywhere connect to modern energy services.

You can read the entire Gates letter here.

Photo: Lameck Luhanga/Girl Up