Star Power Lights Up Sustainable Energy for All

Press Conference on "Sustainable Energy for All: Actions and Commitments"   Speakers: - Akon, R&B artist and co-founder, Akon Lighting Africa initiative; - Neven Mimica, European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development; - Adnan Amin, Director-General, International Renewable Energy Agency; and - Sheila Oparaocha, Executive Secretary, Energia

Providing clean, sustainable energy to the 1.1 billion people currently without now has a new champion; a champion with a loud voice and global reach. Akon, R&B star and founder of the Akon Lighting Africa initiative, teamed up with Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) this week in New York, lending his voice to the cause and participating in the second annual SE4All Forum.

On the sidelines of the Forum this week, SE4All and Akon held a press conference to underscore the importance of universal energy access, as well as the other SE4All goals on doubling the improvement rate in energy efficiency and the share of renewables in the global energy mix.

Joining Akon on the panel were Kandeh Yumkella, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and CEO of SE4All; Adnan Amin, Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA); Neven Mimica, EU Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development; and Sheila Oparaocha, head of Energia.

Akon explained that meeting the needs of millions of people in Africa — including the 600 million who have no electricity — has always been a dream of his. Considering that more than 65% of Africa’s population is the youth, he said, he and his partners in Akon Lighting Africa, wanted to get youth more educated and involved in what needs to happen in order for Africa to prosper.

“Without infrastructure, Africa can’t grow in the way it needs to grow. And without energy, the infrastructure can’t even begin.” For all these reasons, he said, “Energy is the key to Africa’s development.”

Along with his partners, Samba Bathily and Thione Niang, Akon decided to focus on electrifying rural areas, what he called “the heartbeat of Africa,” where the majority of the population lives. The initiative, which has been in business for the last two years, started with a goal to light up a million homes in its first year, but within that year expanded its goal, and now works in 14 countries. In Guinea, for example, they are currently installing 30,000 street lamps and hundreds of thousands of home systems, employing over 5,000 people. They have deployed equipment to 11 countries and are training local people to install and maintain the equipment. And they created an innovative financing scheme that allows countries to pay within 3-5 years in instalments according to their energy budget, with some funding coming from consumers themselves through a pre-payment system.

Mr. Yumkella said that Akon’s engagement was “one of the best things that happened this year” for Sustainable Energy for All, and praised Akon’s decision that, to give back to the continent, to help alleviate poverty and to help the youth, energy is the key. “We have already felt his impact,” Mr. Yumkella added, in a huge spike on social media, and thanked Akon for “taking the message to the world.”

100th edition of UN flagship TV magazine programme ’21st Century’

100thEpisodeScreengrab2An eighteen-year-old Afghan migrant trapped in Greece; an Iraqi journalist dodging bullets; an Ethiopian child bride; a former bomb-maker for Al Qaeda now living a normal life; an Indian widow living in poverty; a deaf Finnish rapper; a Guatemalan woman fighting for justice: stories of struggle, hope and danger. All of these real lives have formed the core of short television documentaries produced by the UN for its monthly news magazine programme 21st Century.

After eight years in production, 21st Century recently reached its 100th edition. It’s a proud moment for Executive Producer Gill Fickling:

“A normal day can find me editing scripts on stories from Congo to the South Caucasus and from Kenya to Palestine; overseeing the recording with our on-screen presenters in the UNTV Studio for both our English 21st Century and French 21ième Siècle; working with our talented editors on new show graphics; or filming a story in a remote village in the Solomon Islands, feeling privileged to tell the stories of such remarkable people in a corner of the planet few get the chance to visit.”

100thEpisodeScreengrab121st Century is distributed to 90 broadcasters worldwide; it’s screened in French by TV5 Monde (audience 250 million), in English by Deutsche Welle (120 million), in Chinese by CBN (30 million), in Turkish by TRT (120 million) among others. Spanish and Arabic versions are also in the works.

“It’s not institutional in feel. It really looks like a journalistic product. I think it’s a turn off for viewers to realize an organization is just blowing its own horn.”

That was the reasoning of former head of UN Television and Radio, and former NBC broadcaster, Susan Farkas when she set up the programme in 2007.

“When we dealt with Rwanda we didn’t shy away from mentioning the fact that there was criticism of the UN’s response to the genocide. We tried to be very even-handed in our reporting – really to tell the story as reporters would do, rather than being completely one-sided. And so that gave us credibility with broadcasters and as a result a whole different set of broadcasters who would never have carried institutional programming suddenly came on board. It really did work. I don’t think TV5 Monde would carry us otherwise.”

As Gill Fickling stresses, the aim above all is to build compelling stories around people:

21st Century provides an opportunity for ordinary people to tell their stories, stories which otherwise may go unheard. As the UN, we are able to access places many journalists can’t and we focus on the stories outside of the main media limelight.”

Here’s to the next hundred episodes.

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