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Mar 29, 2018
by Oscar Tollast
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Salinee Hurley - We Work With the People and Put Them in Charge

Director of Border Green Energy Team discusses empowering communities and living sustainably Salinee Hurley presenting at Salzburg Global Seminar

As an engineer and a social entrepreneur, Salinee Hurley likes to solve problems. In her capacity as director of the Border Green Energy Team (BGET), Hurley has been providing renewable energy technology to underprivileged communities along the Thailand-Burma border. This type of experience encouraged her to take part in the Salzburg Global Seminar session, The Asia We Want: Building Community Through Regional Cooperation I - A Clean and Green Asia. “We all have common issues that we go through, you know, in different countries, but we’re similar, right. The program is really interesting because it’s only including ASEAN, India, Japan, Korea, and China… I thought, maybe, I could learn from other Fellows and also share some experience.”

In addition to her work with BGET, Hurley has also been working on behalf of Sun Sawang, a company she founded in 2013. This social enterprise offers solar-powered products and services for rural villages in Thailand. Hurley concedes this has proven to be more sustainable. By focusing only on solar energy, it has been able to deliver products and services. It’s a topic she knows well, having graduated with a Master’s degree in solar energy engineering from the University of Massachusetts Lowell in 2005. But how has this enterprise affected the BGET? Hurley says, “The Border Green Energy Team is a shift to focusing on the educational part by providing the knowledge of sustainable living techniques, renewable energies, and how to use the resources from the land and to grow rice and crops in the area.”

Farmers within communities in Asia depend on natural resources, according to Hurley. She says, “It is difficult to manage the resources when [farmers] only think about taking advantage of the land.” Hurley believes there is a greater benefit if more farmers are educated about how soil can be nourished and continually used over time.

This idea of living sustainably is something Hurley practices, as well as preaches. Just over seven years ago, Hurley took a course on sustainable living. She learned how to make her own shampoo and soap. She learned how to harvest produce and make food. Last, but not least, she learned how she could build herself a home. Four years after first taking part in the course, she decided that’s what she would do.

Hurley viewed several houses made out of natural materials such as bamboo, mud, and wood, but she left unimpressed. She told herself, “I could do better than this.” Using most of her savings, Hurley built a home in Mae Sot, a district in Thailand which shares a border with Myanmar. Despite the occasional problem here and there, Hurley said the experience had been good. She says, “I think that was the best decision that I’ve made - to actually do it… now I can talk about it because I would not be confident just talking if I had not done it.”

Ahead of the session in Salzburg, Hurley authored an op-ed on her experience convincing people to switch from kerosene lamps to solar powered products. She admits people were apprehensive to go from a cheaper option to a product which was more expensive. Hurley’s solution was to come up with a model which would allow products and services to be paid for over time. Thought was also put into how the system could be maintained and not become a one-off exercise if something were to break.

“We bring in the knowledge,” Hurley says, “and then we look for the local person and then hire them and train them as a technician who would be in charge of maintaining this unit. That’s how we earn the trust from the people. We [are] not just an outsider, but we work with the people and give them the job[s], so they can be in charge of this.”

Hurley was included in the BBC’s list of 100 women in 2014 considered to be changing the world. When asked what inspires her work, Hurley replies, “I honestly have to answer God.” She enjoys the results of her work and being close to the people who have benefited from it. “You hardly find these kinds of communities in urban settings, or in the big cities, these days. I feel blessed to be able to work in this position.”

Salinee Hurley was a participant of The Asia We Want: Building Community Through Regional Cooperation I - A Clean and Green Asia, the first session of a new multi-year series held in partnership with the Japan Foundation. For more information on the session, please click here. To keep up to date with the conversations taking place during the session on social media, follow #SGSasia.


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