Christine Eibs Singer was visiting a health clinic in Senegal in 1997 when she saw the light—literally.
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Three years earlier, Singer had co-founded E+Co to make clean energy investments in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. But it was not until she entered the Senegal clinic that she got to witness the fruits of her venture. A solar panel purchased by a company in which E+Co had invested was powering a light bulb and a vaccine refrigerator. Babies no longer had to inhale damaging fumes from the kerosene lamps that had previously provided the only light.
“It was understanding not just what it meant to my own children because we’re improving the environment, but what it meant to the future children of this village,” says Singer. “That was it for me.”
Today, Bloomfield-based E+Co has 56 employees worldwide and has helped bring clean energy to 5.6 million people, according to Singer. It does so by providing capital and support services for local entrepreneurs in third world nations where, in some cases, electricity has never been available and the burning of fossil fuels and animal waste for cooking has darkened the air with pollution. Singer, a resident of Montclair, describes the nonprofit company as “a little gem hidden away in New Jersey.”
E+Co’s genesis dates to 1990, when Singer and cofounder Phil LaRocco (now retired) left their jobs at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (she was manager of the World Trade Institute) to form a consulting company. Eventually, they launched E+Co with the help of foundation grants, government funding, and private grants and investments. (E+Co supporters include two New Jersey-based companies: Accenture in Florham Park and Prudential Insurance Co. in Newark.) Next, they developed a global network of investment officers to seek clean-energy entrepreneurs in their local markets.
In Ghana, E+Co loaned $70,000 to two local entrepreneurs who had developed an energy-efficient cookstove that produces 40 percent less black-carbon emissions than traditional cookstoves. In Honduras, E+Co provided business-plan assistance and a $250,000 loan to construct a power plant for a hydroelectric company that provides clean energy to more than 10,000 households. Part of an additional $1.25 million investment will be used to enhance the plant’s capacity.
E+Co has $20 million to $25 million in annual income, with 400 percent of its growth coming in the last five to six years. But for Singer, 51 and the mother of twins, the greatest reward is improving the planet for future generations. That was never more apparent to her than on that trip to Senegal. “People can go anywhere and see renewable energy; they can see a solar panel,” she says. “What I was seeing was the results of a business I had invested in.”
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