Member Spotlight – Ashden

By Emma-Louise Frost, Senior Communications Officer, Ashden

 Established in 2001, Ashden started life as a once-a-year Awards program after our Founder Director Sarah Butler-Sloss visited Kenya and saw the potential for innovation in renewable energy to improve the lives of those living off-grid.


Darka Devi, a Frontier Markets customer with her Rakshak torch


Since then Ashden’s work has expanded into a busy year-round schedule of work in all areas of sustainable energy – from working with the UK government to implement policies that will make our cities more sustainable and less polluted, to championing and supporting some of the most innovative organizations bringing clean, affordable energy to developing regions of Africa, Asia and Central/South America. Below we talk about the work of three Energy Access Practitioner Network Members who are also recent Ashden Awards winners.

SunFunder won the Ashden Award for Innovative Finance in 2016 and are a perfect example of how Ashden winners are making sure that clean, affordable energy for everyone is a realistic goal. Financing is one of the most common hurdles for organizations setting up in the solar industry. SunFunder fill the gap of debt-financing for off-grid solar companies, by bringing together investors and a carefully selected portfolio of solar businesses. So far, it has invested $13.8 million in Africa and Asia. Ashden is supporting SunFunder to grow their work on the back of them closing a $21m deal for their ‘Beyond the Grid Solar Fund’ which will see them expand to new regions including Asia and Central/South America.

The on-going support that Ashden provides our winners is what sets us apart. We work with winners after their win to provide a structured program of business support, holding sector-specific conferences, inviting winners to speak in front of prospective funders and other industry experts, as well as providing on-going PR and media support.

We award and work with a wide range of organizations, from NGOs to charities to large businesses and government programs. We look for projects that can be replicated around the world, that can be scaled-up and that are at the forefront of innovation. The world of sustainable energy is a fast-growing one, and Ashden connects stakeholders, whether they are investors, innovators, policy makers or producers.


A farmer in Myanmar with his Proximity Designs solar irrigation Lotus Pump


We are constantly looking at the bigger picture and finding new ways to connect clean energy technologies to the finance organizations that can enable growth, to the buildings developers that are creating our future cities, and to the nexus issues that future generations are depending on us to sort out, like access to clean water and education, and the sustainable supply of goods and services.

Proximity Designs won the Ashden Award for Clean Water and Energy in 2014 and have since gone from strength to strength. Proximity designs and manufactures treadle pumps in Myanmar, to make irrigating crops much quicker and easier and increase income for farmers. At the time of the Award, it had benefitted over 90,000 households and with the support of Ashden has launched their first affordable solar-powered irrigation pump designed for smallholder farmers.

When an organization wins, it’s the start of the journey with Ashden rather than the end. Another one of 2016’s alumni is Frontier Markets, for its work bringing clean energy products to those living in rural India through a network of women sales agents. We will be working with them in the coming years to ensure that women not only benefit from the advances in clean energy, but are an integral part of the supply chain.

For the first time in 2017 Ashden are looking for those providing or using clean energy, or energy efficiency, in the provision of goods and services through business activities, for example in the agricultural, commercial and industrial sectors. Businesses are becoming increasingly invested in renewable energy and sustainable practice. The benefits of the financial return, as well as the reputational benefits of powering business sustainably are getting to be ever better known, and the barriers of convincing board members are slowly coming down.


A SunFunder SolarNow drone captures a house with solar power in Uganda

A SunFunder SolarNow drone captures a house with solar power in Uganda


The focus on businesses also highlights that our winners, like’s work on mini-grids in East Africa, are creating the technology that allows all parts of the sustainable energy eco-system to talk to each other and create sustainable communities, towns, cities and countries.

This does not mean that we will no longer be looking to award small-scale solar and clean cooking projects – the issue of indoor air pollution and clean cooking adds up to almost half of the energy access picture, and we intend to make sure that it stays on the agenda. Our most recent fundraising event, Cooking for Life, raised over £100,000 and was used to increase awareness of the issue, with high-profile chefs attending to demonstrate stoves manufactured and distributed by our winners.

The 2017 Ashden Awards

Applications for the 2017 Ashden Awards are open until November 8, and this year we’re going to award 11 organizations from around the world for their achievements in increasing access to sustainable energy and building a low-carbon future.  Award prize money of up to £20,000, national and international media exposure and tailored business support all come with the prestige of winning an Ashden Award. New to the Awards this year is the Powering Business category, looking for organizations providing or using clean energy or energy efficiency in the provision of goods and services. Other categories include increasing energy access, sustainable buildings, innovative finance, sustainable travel, women and girls, and water.

You can watch short films about all our winners here, as well as highlights of our Awards Ceremonies over the years.

Find out more about the Ashden Awards and apply here. Applications close November 8.