Rambu Yati Radandima, a finance manager in Indonesian start-up Sumba Sustainable Solutions (3S), is giving back to her community. A start-up with a focus on inclusive and sustainable innovations in Sumba Island, 3S provides local schools, villages and community health centres with access to solar power.
Rambu Yati’s work has personal meaning. She knows what it’s like to live without reliable access to electricity. Sumba, an island in the East Nusa Tenggara Province of Indonesia, has a unique geographical character that makes tapping into the national electricity grid difficult. In the past, over 500,000 families living there—roughly 38% of the island’s population—struggled with little or no electricity.
Rambu Yati says: “Life in the village was very different. Back in the 90s, my family relied on kerosene lamps to light up our home when we cooked or when we wove palm mats. We had to manually pound rice and corns because we had no access to milling machines.”
While the Indonesian government committed to electrifying the entire country by 2020 (RUEN 2017), only 62% of the East Nusa Tenggara population has access to electricity, the lowest energy access level in Indonesia (IESR, 2019).
In 2000, Rambu Yati enrolled in the Warmadewa University in Bali. She successfully graduated with undergraduate degree in Agricultural Science. Today, as finance manager at 3S, Rambu Yati is involved in solving energy access issues in her community by providing solar-powered technologies to local institutions. An ethical, profitable business, 3S’s work focuses on bridging the energy gap in rural communities.
The distribution of solar-powered lighting solutions has significantly improved Rambu Yati’s community. Today, Sumba’s children can finally do their homework and study at night. Power has also improved people’s livelihoods, allowing more hours for local artisans to weave tenun ikat, a traditional handwoven fabric. Unique to Sumba, tenun ikat is part of Indonesia’s artistic heritage.
Mission for productivity
3S also provides solar systems for people’s homes and solar-powered productivity centres, which are energy hubs for the community. These solutions are powering livelihoods in Sumba by enabling villagers to mill crops and process bamboo. They are not only making people’s livelihoods more sustainable but are also improving the quality of life for many women in Sumba.
Before, women had to spend several hours a day pounding corn and were left with just half a day free. The solar-powered productivity centres enable villagers to make better use of their time. The men take corn to the mill while the women shell candlenut, which they can later sell at a higher price.
Renewable energy is also saving money and improving people’s health. According to the Indonesian Central Agency of Statistics, villagers typically spend 10% of their monthly living costs on expensive fossil-fuel-based lighting, like kerosene lamps, which emit harmful fumes that can damage the lungs.
With solar-power solutions, Sumba’s villagers now have a greatly reduced electricity bill. Rambu Ina is one of 3S’s local customers. She says: “In the past, we only used the kerosene candle for one hour because it was too expensive. In the evenings, now I have light for four or more hours. At night, often we sit around and talk to our neighbours while shelling our candlenuts or working on woven palm mats to be sold at the market.”
Work in progress
Rambu Yati aspires to keep helping Sumba’s local communities to access renewable energy, so they can increase their incomes and afford a better education for their children. Ensuring 3S has operational and financial sustainability is crucial so they can maintain the solar home systems and solar-powered productivity centres that the villagers depend on.
Like many other start-up employees, Rambu Yati struggled with data collection and creating a balance sheet that was fundamental to 3S’s growth. That’s where New Energy Nexus, a global organisation that supports renewable energy entrepreneurs with funds, accelerators and networks, stepped in.
New Energy Nexus connected Rambu Yati and her colleagues to experts in HR, marketing communications and finance, through a programme called Mentor-in-Residence. Thanks to this programme, Rambu Yati now has the essential resources and skills to move forward. She can confidently draft financial forecasts to determine what the start-up needs to scale up, and ultimately, empower more villages with renewable energy.
3S is no longer a start-up struggling to survive but a sustainable business instilled with a healthy company culture that upholds transparency and communications between team members and stakeholders. And the skills Rambu Yati has learned in areas like communications are helping her nurture a new generation of skilled workers on the island.
She says: “Before we started with the New Energy Nexus accelerator, we were just dealing with problems as they came up, feeling like there must a better way. With New Energy Nexus’ guidance, we now have a clear plan for all parts of the business and our whole team is committed to achieving the goals that we have set together.
“I feel that we now have a shared responsibility to make our company vision and mission—to empower rural communities through access to energy and appliances for productive use—a success.”
 Indonesia’s National Energy Plan (Rencana Umum Energi Nasional (RUEN)).
 Institute for Essential Services Reform (https://iesr.or.id/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Indonesia-Clean-Energy-Outlook-2020-Report.pdf)