The Bethel Business and Community Development Center in Lesotho
The Bethel Business and Community Development Center (BBCDC) is a commercial and technical school located in a remote rural district of Lesotho that began operations in 1993 on barren land with institutional support from UNICEF and the local RC Mission Church. It is an example of how local communities can apply a holistic approach to optimizing the use of energy as well as preserve the natural environment. BBCDC addresses several thorny and interdependent development problems, including: educational innovation, landscape regeneration and water resources improvement, financial independence, adoption of renewable energy platforms, appropriate technology, and design of the built environment for sustainability. The school’s primary mission is to provide skills and knowledge to young men and women for well-being and self-reliance through experiential learning. BBCDC stresses the design, assembly, operation and management of complex systems as a vital driver of wealth, value and order creation. While the surrounding landscape reflects moderate to severe land degradation along with high levels of underemployment, BBCDC has proven that science and technology for hydraulic control and application, together with solar energy utilization can sustain strong economic growth and opportunity when coupled with business acumen. Light industry, tourism, and food processing provide additional opportunities. Careful design and establishment of the built environment breaks vicious circles and replaces them with virtuous ones.
To provide high quality and unique experiential learning to our students within the overall subject of solar energy utilization and sustainable development, this results in improved access to energy for the local community and the restoration of the natural environment.
Rural and peri-urban households in Lesotho which are off grid or seeking low cost thermal energy applications that can be met with solar energy.
- The Center has a highly efficient and self-sustaining energy system, which respects and regenerates the surrounding natural environment.
- Establishment of a full service solar energy sales and service outlet in the town of Mohales Hoek which is called Solarsoft. Solarsoft is a legal trademark of BBCDC protected by law in Lesotho and South Africa.
- Solarsoft sells and installs PV solar systems and hot water heating systems, and can also provide integrated building solutions.
- BBCDC is the project manager of the Soltrain II Lesotho program, which is a 3 year program upgrading the capacity of local engineers and solar companies in the solar thermal energy field.
- Unique interdisciplinary capacity in terms of building design, energy integration, biogas, thermal systems, passive heating and cooling, wind energy and also thermal systems.
- Long standing commercial trade relations with Telecom Techniques based in Port Elizabeth, South Africa for supply chain.
- Staffing is extremely lean, with only one full time employee; as opportunities arise, short term HR is called in on a case by case basis to fulfil contracts.
In the last 5 years revenues are growing each year, and in 2012 BBCDC had a gross income of roughly 2 million maloti, and is operating with little or no grant funding. BBCDC is investing in new infrastructure largely through retained earnings. The school has crafted a substantial income generating platform based on three sectors: building subcontracting and civil engineering; solar energy products sales and service; and conference and guest facilities. The built environment at BBCDC is resource efficient, and because of an extensive program of solar energy utilization, is able to provide high quality energy to sustain a multiplicity of operations on its campus for guests, in workshops, and food services operations. Available water, energy and biodiversity continue to grow each year and systems in place reflect evolution.
The students at BBCDC cannot afford high tuition fees and there is very limited tax payer support. BBCDC and students partner work hard together; operations generate revenues that sustain the school and provide the students with exceptional real world experiential learning. It is a strategy that works and is appropriate in this context. Students are often paid for attachments and special projects, and this enables them to share in commercial success. Rotations and rosters are used to equalize opportunities, and major work placements are also pursued.
The emergence of BBCDC can be couched within a liberal framework of self-reliance, decentralization, and free markets. It never had any active high-level political support. It was a strategic advantage not to suffer from over institutionalization, and bear the additional cost of information processing, layering, delay and paralysis which often afflicts bureaucracies trying to operate in the context of rapid change, uncertainty and flux.
Most rural areas of Lesotho are not served by an electrical grid, and Lesotho has no deposits of fossil fuels. Modern energy services based on solar and renewable energy suit the situation because Lesotho receives one of the highest average solar intensities in the world. Since 1993 BBDCDC is pursuing a concerted solar energy utilization program for education, facilities design, and income generation. The two year solar energy unit includes solar geometry, which traces the diurnal and seasonal cycles of radiation on vertical and horizontal surfaces along with azimuth and altitude angles and their implications. Energetics covers basic units of energy and force: Joules, Watts, Volts and Amps together with conversion efficiencies, applications and storage strategies. As the name of the institution suggests business is always at the forefront of considerations, which means that fixed and variable costs of solar energy applications is emphasized throughout the course. Students are familiarized with the nature and properties of materials and elements as they relate to the storage, conversion, reflection, resistance and conduction of energy. The nature and properties of water as a liquid, gas, solid, and its thermal properties is of particular importance. Elements that reflect, conduct, transmit, absorb or resist energy flow are emphasized. In August 2012 ground was broken for construction of a 242 m2 learning centre on the BBCDC campus which includes four distinct workshops and studios: 1. Food science and culinary arts, 2. Information technology and media studies, 3. Solar energy utilization and building science, 4. Environmental science and agro-ecology. The learning centre is envisaged to move the institution forward to the collegiate level and enable it to offer programs to Diploma level and become a regional centre of excellence serving 200-300 students per annum.
The institutional drivers for formation of the institution were the local RC Bishop of Mohales Hoek and UNICEF. The people working at BBCDC lived here and made it their home. They did not drive in from the outside to engage, but worked from the inside out. They solved their own problems first, before embarking on any extension. The school is Co-ed and provides basic skills and experiential learning to young people from all districts of Lesotho. The student body is approximately gender balanced, and of 11 current full time employees, 6 are female.
The overriding necessity of this community is economic growth and job creation. BBCDC focused on basic infrastructure for water supply, energy supply and food production. In 1994 BBCDC constructed over 6 km of road through a food for work partnership that lasted until 1999. This artery remained heavily used and vital to this community. In late 2013 it was announced that a bridge over the Senqu River will be built at this point, and that a 1.7km stretch of the road originally built where there was none before, would be paved.
There are broad synergies between energy access and economic potential. PV electricity enables a range of light manufacturing processes, as well as power for IT and lighting. Appliances like fridges and freezers continue to improve in efficiency, along with flat screen televisions and other devices, and this couples well with the emerging global solar energy industry. Guest services in the tourism industry benefit from solar water heating, and low grade thermal energy has several applications in the agricultural food and plant production sectors. BBCDC embodies qualitative and quantitative growth which is sustainable because risk and stress are both reduced. The challenge of development in the South is to supersede old economy models where fossil fuels were the engines of growth and natural resources were abundant. Lesotho is at an opposite spectrum. Extremely efficient design is needed to turn land degradation around, restore health and integrity to watersheds and to invoke benign patterns of nutrient cycling. Renewable energy must be harnessed and systems designed with resource efficiency foremost. BBCDC is doing this. More water is available each year, biodiversity is growing and soils on the campus are improving. The technological and scientific suite of information, methods and means is evolving while being tested by experience and the necessity to earn short and long term revenues.
In 2008 the price of solar PV modules began to drop significantly, and at the same time the range and effectiveness of balance of system components also became more competitive or better than alternatives. As well, globalization spread low cost evacuated tube solar water heating technology even to Lesotho, and BBCDC took advantage of these developments. As students cannot afford high tuition fees, the affordability of enrolling at the Centre is built into the whole concept through students’ contribution to the Centre’s finances by way of selling services and products relating to the core themes of Centre.
BBCDC maintains operational statistics, and summarizes these regularly in an annual report and other documents. The solar energy sales division maintains dedicated records, and BBCDC’s participation in regional programs like Soltrain ensures that program highlights and outputs are highlighted and recorded. The annual report includes an overview of operations, an audited financial report and includes details of asset growth, cash flow, employment and qualitative indicators. IT infrastructure has also evolved in Lesotho, enabling social media like Twitter and Facebook to be enlisted for widespread and rapid marketing and knowledge dissemination.
The environmental movement has matured during the last 20 years; one aspect of this is embracing of business and markets. BBCDC as its name suggests, is at the forefront of this movement. Markets and business drive change and enable service delivery. While institutions have an important place in all societies, they are poor at seizing opportunities and exploiting potential. The politics of direction and control are also of very limited scope. Positive change as broad scale emergence of independent, quasi-independent or networked actors is the best model for economic growth and social change. As well, because they have to meet different operational criteria, institutions are often unable to react fast enough to changing circumstances and have strong tendencies towards introversion and caution. BBCDC operates in a marketplace, with students as clients and other customers. It must serve them conscientiously or its market share will decline. Business and markets are essential partners of good governance.
BBCDC is both an enterprise and an institution. In a resource scarce situation it has been able to derive value from its location through efficient design and by pursuing economic opportunity. The critical application of earth system’s science breathes new life into landscapes. BBCDC immerses students in science and technology, and ensures that there is a constant stream of components and materials, and tools and equipment passing through the hands of the students. While experiential learning is comparatively expensive, it is the best. If BBCDC is a suitable paradigm for education and development in a trying location, it will be suitable elsewhere. People need homes, neighbourhoods, work, water, energy and food. As world population continues to grow, resource scarcity will compel design science of energy and material efficiency.
Principal and Managing Director
Name:The Bethel Business and Community Development Center in Lesotho
The Bethel Business and Community Development Center in Lesotho
Principal and Managing Director
- Energy Efficiency
- Productive uses
Project status:Ongoing project
Implementing approach:Multi-stakeholder partnership