Julius West of Obligated2achieve and Groundswell's Nadya Dutchin

At Groundswell, we believe that affordable clean energy is a necessity, not a luxury, and that we can’t afford to leave our neighbors in need behind.  With our Share Power© model, solar subscribers share their savings with neighbors who struggle with the burden of high energy bills – households that we call Empowered.  

We’re grateful that the Fund for Shared Insight recognized this work with a “Listen for Good” grant that we’re using to conduct a series of Human Centered Design sessions to tailor a respectful, positive enrollment and support experience for our Empowered customers. 

As we prepared to partner with Empowered families through community solar projects in Washington D.C. and Baltimore, I traveled to Houston for the 2018 Shared Insight Gathering to learn from other “Listen for Good” grantees and experts.  Many of the attendees were new grantees, just like Groundswell, and we were excited to hear from some of the original grantees about how continuously gathering feedback from their customers has helped them improve their operations and better serve the communities they work with. It was a great opportunity to connect with other grantees, like Obligated2achieve CEO Julius West, about the different practices we've been utilizing to engage the community for the purpose of preserving our environment.

The session was rife with useful tips, best practices and pitfalls to avoid in serving high-need populations. For example, grantees found that conducting surveys with pencil and paper worked better than with iPads or tablets; that open-ended questions encourage more honest feedback; and that we shouldn’t be afraid to talk directly with people through focus groups, community meetings and one-on-one conversations to tease out their real feelings and make sure they are not just being polite. 

The speakers drove home the need for us to be mindful of the many challenges low-to-moderate income families face, including access to transportation, language barriers, access to wifi and technology, childcare needs, and limited family time. If we aren’t addressing these needs when we host community-focused events – for example by providing transportation, childcare and translation services -- we’re not really serving the community.

For me, one of the highlights of the meeting was the keynote presenter Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative, an organization that works to end mass incarceration, represent defendants without adequate legal representation, and exonerate inmates on death row.  Bryan laid out four ways to effectively make changes for those who are poor, marginalized, and forgotten:

1.     Get proximate - you can't help communities fix things if you don't see and talk with them.

2.     Change the narrative; challenge the politics of fear and anger that are perpetuated by stereotypes or negative tropes.

3.     Stay hopeful in philanthropy and strategic change - change is hard and can be intimidating

4.     Do things that are inconvenient and uncomfortable - making systemic and meaningful changes are disruptive to the status quo; when serving others, we need to break out of our shell and shake things up.

Groundswell is committed to all of these principles as we work to connect solar power to economic empowerment in the communities we serve. As we ramp up pre-enrollment for our developing community solar projects, we are looking forward to showing our customers how much they matter to us through an easy, respectful enrollment process that respects their time and needs.