Iowa students find sustainable lessons in India

One example of how sustainability helps rural villagers in India is a solar lighting program for places not reached by the electric grid.

David Osterberg
David Osterberg

Deendayal Research Institute (DRI) in Chitrakoot, India, works with India’s poor. Ten University of Iowa students and Associate Professor David Osterberg have come to this holy city to study this organization’s approach to sustainability.

We had hoped to send a blog each day describing the school for tribal girls, the entrepreneurial center, villagers growing plants used in Ayurvedic medicine, the agricultural experiment stations and others of the 19 programs that exist in villages located within 50 kilometers of this center. However, the internet connection has been down most of the time. Thankfully it was up Wednesday evening so the students could go online for materials for the presentations they will make to our hosts today.

One example of how DRI makes the lives of villagers better is the solar lighting program for places not reached by the electric grid. Solar panels power 10-watt LED lamps, 60 of them in each of two villages we visited. Powering lamps solves the problem of storage of solar power generated during the day. The charge captured by a lamp on an average day will produce six hours of light at night.

A local village person, a woman in each of the places we visited, runs the solar charging station as a combination business and community activity. The setup — two 100-watt panels, 60 lamps and wiring — would be beyond the micro loan level so a hybrid arrangement, something akin to a U.S. public utility arrangement, was needed.

Charging the lamps and maintaining the system is a private-sector endeavor but because the system itself was given to the village, there is a limit to what can be charged. Villagers pay the charger woman about 4 cents for a nightly charge. She in turn maintains the system. She was trained in maintaining the system by the DRI’s entrepreneurial center so the systems are well-maintained.

By the way the system can also charge a couple dozen cell phones at a time. And it may be surprising to us but even poor villagers have cell phones.

This is one example of how sustainability works in rural India. We have seen many more during the seven days we have been here.

Posted by David Osterberg, Executive Director

Author: iowapolicypoints

Iowa Policy Points is a blog of Common Good Iowa, a new organization built on a collective 50 years of experience of two respected Iowa organizations — the Child and Family Policy Center and the Iowa Policy Project. Learn more at

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