Produced in collaboration with the community of Santa Marta, one of Rio de Janeiro’s central favelas, Insolar’s solar umbrella captures the energy from the sun with OPV (organic photovoltaic) modules. As well as enabling people to recharge their smartphones and gadgets whilst at the park or on the beach, the umbrella also offers UVA and UVB protection and provides a welcome source of shade for themselves and others.

Make the Future Detroit (MTFD), a four-day festival of ideas and innovation, took place from 27-30 April at the Cobo Center. Focused on celebrating bright energy ideas that will inspire current and future energy solutions, MTFD offered free virtual reality experiences and hands-on science experiments for over 20,000 visitors from the Great Lakes Region and beyond.

Founded by Henrique Drumond, Insolar connects communities to solar power by installing photovoltaic panels. These solar panels not only provide low-income families with affordable electricity but aim to benefit society, the economy and the environment.

Henrique’s initial vision for his company came during a visit to Mozambique, where he saw first-hand how small changes in the local economy delivered a great impact, opening his eyes to the broader benefits of affordable electricity – far beyond reducing bills or turning on televisions.

This philosophy is being brought to life in a community-based solar power system in Santa Marta. It was among the first areas to be freed from street gangs under a Brazilian state programme, and is now home to a community determined to build a better life for themselves. However, their hope is held back by the high price and low reliability of its power supply.

Henrique saw the exciting potential of tapping into Santa Marta’s 2,250 annual hours of sunlight and the opportunity to create a community-based solar power system. Insolar’s solar installations, supported in part by Shell, are providing the energy that keeps the lights on at a children’s nursery or powering Internet access at an education centre. This enables the nursery to stay open longer and accept more children, enabling more parents and grandparents to work and earn a wage. In this way, a single action will very quickly bring significant social and economic benefits to every generation in Santa Marta.

The participation of the Santa Marta community is also key to the production of Insolar’s new solar umbrella: students helped with the electrical installations for the umbrella; local seamstresses developed the packaging; taxis provided logistical support for the components; and the local nursery became the centre for production.

Commenting on the participation of the Santa Marta community in the production of the solar umbrellas, Henrique said, “Production of the solar umbrellas offers local residents the opportunity to work together towards a common goal. It provided an empowering experience for Santa Marta residents who were very proud to see their work presented overseas. Also, MTFD visitors were amazed to learn of the social impact associated with our umbrellas.

“For Insolar, technology should be at the service of social progress, helping us make the future we want for our country and for the world.”

Outlining the importance of Make the Future, Henrique said, “The best way to talk about the future is presenting it first-hand. MTFD displayed several energy technologies in a very tangible, interactive and comprehensible way, helping to plant the seed of energy innovation on the most fertile ground of all – the minds of children.”

Highlighting Insolar’s collaboration with Shell, Henrique added, “Insolar contributes to a clean energy future by promoting the democratization of solar energy in Brazil and, thanks to Shell, spreading the message overseas. We believe that inspiring by example is the best way to empower other entrepreneurs to follow similar paths and help us tackle the energy challenges of the future. Acting locally, thinking globally.”

A Shell LiveWIRE award winner in 2014, Henrique is full of praise for the support he has received from Shell Iniciativa Jovem, the LiveWIRE programme in Brazil, and from Shell saying, “I have been very lucky to benefit from Shell Iniciativa Jovem and also from Shell’s #makethefuture accelerator.

“Shell Iniciativa Jovem helped me to develop my business plan for Insolar, including the pilot project at Santa Marta, and introduced me to an amazingly powerful network of dynamic young entrepreneurs.

“The Shell #makethefuture accelerator enabled me to benefit from the collective expertise and knowledge of 100 entrepreneurs who provided an invaluable perspective on the challenges and opportunities Insolar faces in achieving its objectives and its potential. Shell provided the opportunity to deliver a major project in Santa Marta, and in engineering our business plan to maximise our social impact while improving our commercial approach.”