Women Wind Weavers - Women's Empowerment Through the Creation of Renewable Energy

Women Wind Weavers - Women's Empowerment Through the Creation of Renewable Energy

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$100,000 - $250,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Problem: Most women in rural Guatemala live in poverty, leading to malnourished children and lack of opportunity—especially for girls.

Solution: Thousands of women in Guatemala weave for a living, but most make less than $2 per day. The Appropriate Technology Collaborative (ATC) is working with a women’s weaving cooperative in Guatemala to co-design and build wind turbines with blades that are woven by the women from high-tensile fiber. The first one will power the village school; the women are creating a small business to sell more, creating clean energy, economic opportunity, and jobs throughout the region. The Women Wind Weavers (W3) project is highly scalable where we work in Guatemala and Nicaragua and it can be duplicated world-wide.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

All of the older residents of Nueva Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan are survivors of mass trauma and damage caused by Hurricane Mitch in 1998, when their village was all but destroyed by mud slides. The survivors were relocated 20 km away to a new (hence “Nueva”) town. NSCI has a population of approximately 4,000 & is located 10,000ft above sea level in the Solola region of Guatemala. NSCI is divided into 5 neighborhoods; each elects 2 members to the local Development Committee. John Barrie has been working with the committee since 2007 to improve the local water supply and to develop solar-powered LED lights. He has made a commitment to return on an ongoing basis, and spends roughly one-fifth of his time there. Residents of NSCI are predominantly Roman Catholic although traditional Mayan rituals are a source of cultural pride. The village elders are well-respected and have stable marriages; when there is an important decision to be made (including around ATC projects), the male elders want their wives to be present to take part in decision-making. They value the opinions of women very highly. The village is economically depressed due to economic disruption from the relocation, a lack of clean water and low employment levels. ATC has worked with the development committee and Engineers Without Borders to design and install new water pumps scheduled for August 2011. We find virtually all of the villagers to be well organized, eager to learn new things and to improve their living conditions.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Our initiative is innovative technically and also for the unique and holistic way it addresses social/systems change. With the Women Wind Weavers Project, we are partnering with people in a less developed country to combine traditional cultural practices with renewable energy. Working together with the residents of NSCI, we found a way to use traditional weaving in such a way that it forms the blades of an efficient, inexpensive wind turbine, thereby opening up a new, more lucrative market for the women’s valuable skills. Woven wind turbines will stand out on the landscape as a proud landmark that is both functional and aesthetic, literally weaving an important piece of the indigenous culture into technology that would otherwise seem alien. Since each village has its own distinct textile designs, the turbines will provide an enchanting way for each village to distinguish itself on the horizon. Such an innovation could only have come after working with the people of NSCI for three years, deepening our relationships with them, and brainstorming with them for many, many hours. If this project is in any way notable, we must share the credit for the idea with the people of NSCI. Since we are teaching residents of NSCI how the technology works, they will be able to maintain and repair the turbines and create hands-on opportunities for youth to learn about science. Thus this project not only provides jobs and economic opportunity for women weavers, but also better education for the whole community.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

In spring 2011, a prototype wind turbine was built and demonstrated in the village of Nueva Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan (NSCI), where this project is based. We are now refining it at our U.S. lab. In spring 2012, ATC founder/director John Barrie will travel to NSCI along with 10 skilled technical volunteers to work side-by-side with the women from the weaver’s cooperative to build and erect an improved turbine at the local school. The turbine and generator will be built completely from affordable, locally available materials. Women will create woven assemblies for the blades out of high-tensile thread, and they will receive paid training to participate in every step of this project because they want to start businesses producing and selling the turbines to nearby villages, and also teach other women how to do so. With ATC support, the weavers, students, and school staff will learn how a turbine generates electricity, and John Barrie will work with school staff to incorporate it into the curriculum. Students will help maintain it year-round, gaining valuable hands-on experience with generators, wind power, and electricity. ATC will then provide support to the weaving cooperative to start a microbusiness selling the turbines to schools and other markets in the region, including a smaller scale 20-watt turbine that can be sold to individuals. Since electricity there costs 2-3 times as much as here, the turbines will soon pay for themselves. Women weavers in other villages will create similar microbusinesses over three years, and the design will be distributed world-wide.
About You
The Appropriate Technology Collaborative
About You
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About Your Organization
Organization Name

The Appropriate Technology Collaborative

Organization Country

, MI

Country where this project is creating social impact

, SO

How long has your organization been operating?

1‐5 years

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What stage is your project in?

Operating for less than a year

Share the story of the founder and what inspired the founder to start this project

After 22 years working as a well-respected architect and designer, John Barrie got the idea for founding ATC on a trip to Ecuador in 2004, when he realized that 90% of the world’s most highly skilled, talented designers work for just 10% of the world’s population. He envisioned the outcome if even just 10% of the world’s most creative designers dedicated themselves to solving the problems of “the other ninety percent,” focusing on environmentally sustainable, affordable solutions that promote human dignity. Within just 3 years Barrie began winning major design awards and media attention for his work, including a Lindbergh grant, two Michigan State Edison Prizes and the Boston Innovation Prize. Barrie lives in Guatemala and Nicaragua about 25% of the year. He lives in the communities ATC serves so he can witness first-hand their needs, desires and opportunities.

Barrie has been working with the people of NSCI since 2007 and has made a long-term commitment to gain a comprehensive understanding of their problems and also their cultural, social, and economic context. One night, during a discussion with the NSCI Development Committee, about a dozen women demonstrated their weaving and needlepoint skills as potential sources of economic development. Barrie presented rough demonstration models of renewable energy options. Together we decided to explore combining traditional cultural practices with renewable energy. The women felt pleased and confident that they could make more money by creating their art in a new medium, using skills they already know and enjoy.

Social Impact
Please describe how your project has been successful and how that success is measured

ATC started working with the women’s weaving cooperative in NSCI, Guatemala in summer 2010. Together, through trial and error, we invented a method of transferring the village’s distinctive textile designs to the blades of a wind turbine. In spring 2011 ATC and a team of skilled volunteers worked side-by-side with the women to explore various designs for the turbine and test resins for waterproofing and strengthening the woven assemblies.

We think it’s important, for many reasons, that our clients understand how technology works, so we used magnets and wires to demonstrate how electricity is made. We then demonstrated with our early design turbine blades how a turbine generates electricity. Many villagers who witnessed this were amazed and proud of what we had all accomplished together. Village Elder, Don Victoranio, said: “That was the most amazing thing I have ever seen. I never knew how electricity is generated.” As a result, residents voiced a desire to install a turbine at their school for 200 youth in spring 2012. The whole region is abuzz with excitement, and the director of a nearby secondary school for 600 students has asked us to help him build a turbine, which we are training the women weavers to do. A total of 11 Guatemalan women and daughters have worked on the W3 project so far. We have refined a new technology by partnering with local residents, and they are taking ownership of it and have committed significant labor, time, and interest—the most important first step in this process.

How many people have been impacted by your project?

How many people could be impacted by your project in the next three years?


How will your project evolve over the next three years?

Over the next 3 years, we will help the people of NSCI build the infrastructure to make and sell turbines to nearby villages. We will also train the women weavers to help other women start up similar microbusinesses. We will make technical refinements to two models of wind turbines: a 200-watt version will enable a small school to function off the grid, saving hundreds of dollars to buy computers and other equipment. A smaller 20-watt wind turbine will enable families to power 4 efficient lights, a radio and charge cell phones. ATC will sponsor workshops at least annually to train women in both business and technical skills. We will also partner with other NGOs, and governments to spread the technology through the region, promoting it through our website, workshops and at conferences.

What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

We do not anticipate financial barriers because this project is designed based on our successful Guatemala solar lighting project.

We have a solid design and our prototypes are close to being ready for market. The W3 project will be self-sustaining within three years, during which we can boot-strap the project selling small low cost turbines to rural households that lack electricity. A small turbine, battery and high efficiency lights cost less than what people are currently spending on kerosene and candles to light their homes. The lights are much brighter and they don’t emit toxic fumes.

By 2013 the first micro-business will begin turning a profit. The turbines are made with local, affordable materials, and will soon pay for themselves because energy costs 2-3 times as much as it does here.

Our largest potential barrier is cultural, but we have a long record of success on projects in the village (water, LED lights, and now wind turbine design). We are aware that, by working primarily with the women weavers, we are subverting traditional gender roles. But we have built up a reservoir of good will, trust, communication, and mutual respect with the village over 3 years, and we also will be working with men on establishing microbusiness. We meet regularly and often with the Development Committee to get their input, advice, ideas, approval, and we know this project has their enthusiastic support, as do the women weavers.

Tell us about your partnerships

Our main partner for this project is the weavers cooperative of NSCI. We have been working with them since summer 2010.

ATC has been working with the NSCI Development Committee since 2007. We began working with them on establishing a system to deliver potable water after ATC Director John Barrie heard of the villages needs and hardships from K’Che language instructor Don Victoranio Guachiac. ATC made a long-term commitment to the village and we monitor our projects at least once a year. This year our partner, Engineers Without Borders, Rutgers University, will install new pumps and pipe to supply water to the village.

As mentioned earlier, we also designed LED lights and a solar home lighting system with the people of NSCI and Guatemalan engineering firm Xela Teco. We are currently developing potential business models for the people of NSCI to consider in order to establish a micro-business or businesses to distribute the lights.

Xela Teco focuses on clean energy and clean technology in Guatemala. ATC will again work with Xela Teco on the electronic design for the W3 project.

ATC is working with a team of 10 - 15 volunteer engineering students from the University of Michigan BLUELab on the W3 project. BLUELab will be returning to Guatemala Spring 2012 to work with the women wind weavers to create new turbine blades and install two demonstration wind turbines.

Explain your selections

We have received support to start this project from an Ann Arbor-based Foundation. We have also had a successful Global Giving campaign to fund additional research, install wind data loggers and gather performance data on our demonstration turbines.

The W3 project is an extension of our previous work on small scale solar home lighting systems which received funding from the Lindbergh Foundation, Rotary International and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Foundation. From our work on small scale home energy systems we derived the price point for home energy systems and best practices for providing renewable energy in rural Latin America.

ATC is fortunate to have dozens of individuals who support our design and development of new technologies for people in low income countries.

The primary source of funding for this project will come from the business we (the weaving cooperative and ATC) create to sell wind turbines, efficient lighting and related hardware. We have a solid business model based on our successful Guatemala solar lighting project where we out competed kerosene lamps and candles to light people’s homes and small businesses.

How do you plan to strengthen your project in the next three years?

ATC is assembling an advisory board of high-profile businessmen, academics, and environmentalists, and they will be using their networks, knowledge, and experience to ensure the success of W3 in Guatemala, and help us distribute the design worldwide. Our development committee will make W3 a priority so W3 can become self-sufficient within 3 years.

John Barrie will work in NSCI at least twice a year to advance both the technical and business aspects of this project. In order to ensure the full benefit of introducing this technology, Barrie will work with schools to incorporate demonstration turbines into their science curriculum; students will take data on efficiency; and the school will be paid for maintenance and testing for a year. We will provide an instruction book in Spanish that features many diagrams and illustrations. The women weavers will have the skills to make repairs to turbines they sell, with assistance from our local staff person.

We will continue to strengthen consensus through regular communication with the women weavers and the people of NSCI and lots of listening. If enthusiasm for this technology continues to grow in the region, we will join forces with other nonprofits working in the area like AIDG to ensure that people who need and want a W3 turbine can obtain a low- or no-interest loan to buy one. We will hold workshops at least annually to train women involved in microbusinesses on the technical and business of W3, and eventually we expect them to lead the workshops and teach us quite a few things!

Which barriers to employment does your innovation address?
Please select up to three in order of relevancy to your project.


Lack of skills/training


Restrictive cultural norms


Lack of visibility and investment

Please describe how your innovation specifically tackles the barriers listed above.

The W3 supplement family income with weaving but make less than $2.00 per day. The W3 are learning new skills that for the first time increase the value of their work while preserving their traditions.

Many older women in NSCI did not attend school and speak limited Spanish. Their roles have been to support their families. The W3 project honors tradition and educates women. It is viewed positively by both women and men in the village.

Guatemala’s rates of illiteracy and infant mortality are highest among rural indigenous peoples, particularly households headed by women. Investment in these communities is negligible. (e.g. in NSCI the government has yet to provide potable water) The W3 project is a collaboration to provide opportunity for women to make a living wage.

Are you trying to scale your organization or initiative?
If yes, please check up to three potential pathways in order of relevancy to you.



Grown geographic reach: Multi-country


Enhanced existing impact through addition of complementary services

Please describe which of your growth activities are current or planned for the immediate future.

We plan to expand the Women Wind Weavers project to other parts of Guatemala where wind conditions and poor rural electrification provide the best opportunity. We will then make the design available to groups who are interested in providing similar opportunity in other countries.

This project is part of a portfolio of clean technologies that ATC has to offer. The relationships women make selling wind turbines and efficient lights will become a distribution chain for locally sourced, locally made affordable clean technologies that provide opportunities for both the women who make technologies as well as the people they serve.

Do you collaborate with any of the following: (Check all that apply)

Technology providers, NGOs/Nonprofits, For profit companies, Academia/universities.

If yes, how have these collaborations helped your innovation to succeed?

We are working with a group of students and faculty from the University of Michigan BLUELab to design and test the woven wind turbine. We will optimize the turbine blades using the U of M wind tunnel to test different blade geometries.

We have worked with the Guatemalan Engineering firm Xela Teco on several projects involving electronics, power generation and household lighting systems. We plan on co-designing the circuit boards necessary for the Woven Wind Turbine with Xela Teco. We have had Xela Teco up to NSCI to meet the Women Wind Weavers and to assist on other projects.

We have shared facilities in Guatemala with the Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group (AIDG), an international nonprofit located not far from NSCI in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.