Gabriela Corbera and Dahlia Rawji, Edited by Cecilia V. Lalama

This is an original blog post with David D'Angelo. David and his team founded an organization that is designed to alleviate energy poverty by providing low-cost, sustainable, clean electricity to villagers across Nepal.

Tell us a little bit about Recharge Labs...

Recharge Labs is a for-profit, social venture based in Nepal that provides energy access and jobs to villagers across Asia. We set up solar-powered recharge stations in rural communities that are run by local entrepreneurs. The stations are equipped with more than 100 high-capacity power banks that we charge with solar panels and rent out to our customers.  These power banks have the capacity to light a home for 30+ hours and charge a smartphone 5 to 7 times. We also have more than 200 LED lights at the station. When a customer first visits one of our stations, they pay a small deposit for one of our power banks and two LED lights. When the power on the bank is low, they return it and pay a usage fee in exchange for a fully charged power bank. It is a rental model, and this type of model allows us to keep costs low, maintain responsibility for fixing technical problems, and hire local villagers who can be our brand advocates, business gurus and technical experts in off the beaten path areas.

What inspired you and your team to take on the initiative? How did you start?

I think like most entrepreneurs, it’s all about coming across a really big problem that hasn’t been solved or adequately addressed by other companies in the marketplace - therein lies the opportunity. I found that there are 1.3 billion people around the world without electricity; 1.5 million people die yearly from long- term exposure to kerosene; 700 million people in South Asia will be off the grid by 2030, families are spending 30% of their annual income on harmful, expensive solutions. These statistics fueled my desire to be part of the solution.

I had the simple idea to contribute to the alleviation of energy poverty in South Asia. I inspired a few people and eventually, the model was fine-tuned, and we started pursuing funding so we could head to Nepal to run the pilots. I was fortunate to have people around me who had decades of experience running start-ups or business divisions at multinational corporations.

It looks like many of your experiences abroad motivated you to do the work you are doing today in international development. Where have you worked both domestically and abroad? What had the most profound experience on you?

Indeed, my experiences have influenced my decision to launch a start-up and contribute to international development. In the past, I worked with the United Nations, U.S State Department in Nepal, U.S Homeland Security, Social Enterprise Greenhouse and the International Rescue Committee. I was fortunate to be able to work in Nepal and Ireland during my undergraduate years and gained valuable experience with a few jobs in the United States before deciding to head back abroad to launch my venture. Now, I am working with Nanosynth Materials & Sensors and Recharge Labs in South Asia. Renewable energy, nano technology and artificial intelligence excite me the most, and I am really passionate about focusing my energy in these areas.

My most profound experience was managing the Microenterprise Development Program at the International Rescue Committee, where I had consistent access to a large network of top entrepreneurs in Utah. After that year and a half, I had a handle on what I valued – creation, thinking big, technology, the developing world, helping others, learning from really smart, genuine and successful people, and networking.

What are some of the biggest lessons you have learned building Recharge Labs?

Passion is everything. It’s about believing in your product, your team, and your vision. It’s about finding an innovative model fit for scale, because only through doing so can you disrupt an industry. We have focused on building a great team and advisory board. I believe that people have the most influence on how a start-up performs in markets.

For me, I think the biggest lesson was coming to know that if you have the desire and inspiration, you could accomplish anything. I was so committed to seeing it through that I sold everything I owned to make the move feasible. I believed in myself, and this was because other people believed in me. My mentors provided me with the encouragements and advice I needed to feel confident, be optimistic and to take on this challenge with the utmost effort.

Can anyone be a social entrepreneur? What would you say to someone starting out in the field who is thinking about taking on similar initiatives in the energy sector or overall in development?

Last summer, I was having a conversation with the former CEO & Founder of Goal Zero, during which I shared my idea. He stopped me mid conversation and said “Dave, if not now, when? If not you, who?” This was an important turning point for me. It made me think: “What am I waiting for? What excuses or fears are holding me back?” I knew from that point on that my focus had to be on action. The only difference between people like me, who started a social venture, and those who have not is this willingness to take risks. Don’t let your fears keep you from pursuing your passion.

You were in Nepal during the earthquakes. Tell us what Recharge Labs has done to contribute to the rebuilding efforts in Nepal?

The earthquakes have devastated what was already a very fragile Nepal. Our being here for the experience was unfortunate, but we are also very fortunate to be in a position to help those most affected by it. I think in times of challenge, optimism is critical.

My team started a crowd funding campaign a few days after the earthquake. The campaign was a success and we decided to partner with two engineering institutions on a school building project. What is unique about our work is that we only use locally-sourced materials and talent for the construction of the schools. On our first project, we built a 4-classroom school that serves more than 50 primary students in Sindhupalchok District. We hired six local workers and finished the project in less than one week, all for $510. The school is built to last more than 20 years. We have made plans to make improvements to the school design in the next week to increase the life of these schools from 20 to 40 years. More than 10 schools will be built in the next six months, and we are really excited to see how our work will unfold during this period.

In addition, we have worked with USA partners to set up over 40 semi permanent, rural health posts in Dhading and Sindhupalchok District. It has been a humbling experience for us, and we are grateful for all the support we have received – it makes what we do possible.

What’s been the most challenging part about working in Nepal thus far?

Experiencing and responding to the earthquake has been very difficult for us. What is most difficult is seeing entire communities leveled by the disaster; no homes still standing, people telling us stories about how they lost their loved ones, children not being able to return to school, families living in tents or out in the open, feeling aftershocks that keep everyone on edge.

What would you say is the best way practitioners in the field can help from afar?

We are always looking for talented people to join our social venture as fellows, full-time workers, interns or volunteers. They can contact us at [email protected] to learn more about how to get involved. If they have interest in supporting us financially, they may also contact us at the email above, or if they are interested in our school-building initiative they can always donate directly to our GoFundMe campaign at

What plans does Recharge Labs have for the rest of the year and 2016?

In 2015, we are really focused on piloting and improving the business model. Our goal is to serve 500 customers by the end of this year, and experience will give us the insight we need to improve our processes. In 2016, our focus will be on scaling our operation in Nepal and completing market research in neighboring countries, such as India and Bangladesh, so we can enter bigger markets. We see what we are doing as something that has global relevance.

Any last words of advise for rising professionals in our community?

I believe it is important to be conscientious when deciding with whom you spend your time, because these are the people who will either lift you up or bring you down. The game-changer for me has been surrounding myself with people who inspire me to challenge myself, think differently and improve as a person. Many of my friends have “made it”, and I try to understand the how and why.