The Real Power of a Woman’s Touch
[Morton (top left) walking a local Hesquiaht community through renewable energy options.]
Donna Morton has successfully made the transition from a promising changemaker to a high-impact 2011 Unreasonable Institute Fellow, tackling poverty, economic and community development, and climate abatement.
For those who know Donna – or who have gotten the opportunity to talk with her – this entrepreneurial evolution shouldn’t come as any surprise. This Ashoka Fellow, serial entrepreneur, and CEO describes herself as a “Kicking Bull in the foundation world” – she’s a woman who knows exactly what she wants, and she has the drive to realize her goals.
Her latest venture, First Power, is a for-profit energy company that puts clean energy and good jobs in the hands of communities. First Power was born out of her desire to make a difference beyond banal environmental stewardship; she set out to shake-up British Columbia’s economy and reshape local communities.
“It is pointless to try to build a viable economy when we’re working with communities where 40 houses spend $400,000 a year on energy,” says Morton. “There are remote communities all over the planet that have no platform to build vibrant economies because they lack food security, they lack energy security. Our strategy is to solve the very basic foundational underpinnings for economies --- and then build out capacity building programs, job training programs, entrepreneurial programs, and help incubate economic development.”
It’s safe to say that, so far, she has already made a lasting impression, beginning with the Hesquiaht 100% Renewable Project on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The pilot project’s mission is to create one of the deepest green microgrids on the planet using entirely renewable, low-impact, locally available energy, while also addressing the First Nation population’s social architecture.
First Power offers customers a suite of tools including solar, wind, biomass, micro hydro and geothermal solutions. However, Donna strongly believes that technology is not the only answer – meaningful partnerships are an absolute necessity in order to have the community drive the change and steer the transition to renewable energy.
“Rather than imposing – again! – a new form of energy on indigenous communities, our strategy is to be co-developers. We build in-depth engagement strategies enabling the community at-large to design the new energy program to include opportunities for employment and economic development. And, at the end of the day communities have far more capacity and energy autonomy.”
Because the project is community-owned and operated from start to finish, it is also community-staffed, easing the energy transition with long-term and meaningful employment. First Power’s sustainable job plan in British Columbia features three tracts. The first is directly related to the installation of green energy infrastructure. Second, First Power connects the community with ecotourism opportunities along the beautiful British Columbia coast – a popular summer destination for nature lovers, campers, whale watchers, and others. The third tract features the production of locally grown, highly sustainable food products. The result is an enhanced market that reaps the benefits of renewable energy.
Despite First Power’s specific focus, its impact is hardly micro. The carbon reductions of this first project will be 600 tons this year alone – the equivalent of 140 cars off the road every year ... year after year after year.
“And that is with the involvement of just 40 houses,” she says. “Apply that impact to a community of 1,000 people, or 10,000 people all running on diesel generators. It’s a massive, massive environmental improvement, while managing to give people a new sense of power, control, empowerment, and access to markets that they are currently left out of.”
Since the Unreasonable Marketplace launched, Donna has received handfuls of emails and phone calls from people in Thailand, India, Haiti and Australia, all hoping to get their hands on First Power’s community-dreamed energy production.
As expected, Donna Morton is enthusiastic and up to the task:
“We believe – and always have believed – that our model is highly applicable to hundreds or thousands of communities around the globe. Being honored with incredible mentorship, peer support globally, and access to ethical investment means that we can scale-up and change the lives of millions faster than ever imagined.”
In the final round of Unreasonable support, First Power received endorsements from a First Nation leader dedicated to social development, a woman who championed an aid project in Latin America, and a former priest that marched with Dr. Martin Luther King. Not a bad send-off. More power to her.