The Ann Arbor Library hosted “How to End Poverty and Save the Planet” on Thursday evening, featuring John Barrie, founder and chief innovation officer of the Appropriate Technology Collaborative, a nonprofit based in Ann Arbor. Barrie is also a class of ’83 alum at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan. 

About a dozen potential volunteers, ATC members and academics attended the lecture. 

Information alum Innocent Ndubuisi-Obi Jr. was excited to learn more about a topic that is in a similar field of research that he focuses on. 

“I wanted to focus on the intersection of human behavior and design, and figuring out how do we take technologies that already exist in certain contexts and reappropriate them in different contexts,” Obi said. “I’m more interested in not just getting the solar panels there, but how do you get people involved to ensure the solution is sustainable?”

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In 2008, Barrie started ATC with a mission to help develop and distribute technological solution to low income areas worldwide.

He opened the event by giving background information on Guatemalan life without electricity. He talked about how many families are left in the dark, and how it was difficult to find electricity for phones and electronics. 

“Second graders are given the phones to go on a 90-minute hike to the nearest outlet,” Barrie said. “They end up missing a day of school every three days.”

Barrie said he hopes ATC’s Mayan Power and Light project will improve the quality of life by teaching rural women the skills to start their own business and distribute a variety of solar power systems. It recently won the 2019 Energy Globe Award for Guatemala. 

“We came up with the very best, least expensive solar options for people,” Barrie said. “We tested hundreds of solar power systems to find the best. … We trained people, especially women, in electricity and circuits, and how circuits work in solar power. We help them develop carpentry and business skills.”

In addition to Mayan Power and Light, ATC also has many other opportunities including Detroit Solar Power, an initiative to boost the Detroit economy through STEM education and business incubation. They also offer volunteer opportunities in Guatemala. 

Barrie said education is important to ATC’s mission.

“They don’t know,” Barrie said. “They don’t know much about electricity. Solar power is just strange because it’s not connected to the grid. There’s an education process with getting solar power into people’s hands in rural Guatemala.”

Barrie also stressed the importance that Mayan Power and Light was a women-focused business. He believes this is a way to create more opportunities for women in the economy. In addition, trends show when women earn more money, more of it goes to the family.

He highlighted Fatima, a 16-year-old that served as the breadwinner for her family after her father lost his arm in an accident. Through their workshop, they helped her learn the skills she needed to bring electricity to her home. 

“Fatima knows all the components: how they work together, how to wire them neatly,” Barrie said. “She knows how to wire a house.”

Lisa Beckman, a retired nurse of the University Hospital, said she was a strong supporter of Barrie’s educational philosophy and uses a similar idea when she goes to Central America with medical units to teach.

“I think it’s fascinating how his philosophy is to teach people how to build their own businesses, and not just go in and say, ‘You do this, you do that,’” Beckman said. “(ATC) can empower you to build your own businesses and empower yourself to teach each other — not rely on (them) to come in and do it all for you. That’s actually more sustainable.” 

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