Lighting Up Lives in India

Jun 3, 2015 10:05 AM ET

AECOM Impact blog

Based in Munich, Germany, Shanti Barrera is an architect consultant in AECOM’s Strategy Plus group. In a recent AECOM Impact blog post, Shanti shares his experience working in India with Pollinate Energy’s Young Professionals Program.

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to live in and experience several societies that are different from my own. Through this, I’ve learned that we are all the same — waking up every day to go to school and work, so that we can be part of a bigger change, or at least part of the world we share. The only difference is that, where I’m from, we have access to additional tools compared to other parts of the world. Through these experiences, I learned that by sharing those tools, we can improve the lives of those who are in need of additional resources.

Energy poverty involves the lack of access to modern energy services. Although it is not easy for many of us to imagine a lack of electricity in our lives, since we use it even while we sleep, there are 1.3 billion people who live without a single watt of electricity.

In India, 292 million people do not have access to electricity — meaning they rely heavily on fossil fuels such as kerosene, for light, which causes health problems and major pollution issues. And this is all happening in today’s high-tech era, in which many people still do not think or care about where their power comes from. It’s not that we need to feel bad for living in the societies that we do, but it is important to be aware and conscious of the realities that others face and how small actions can help to improve lives. 

In 2012, the world’s largest blackout occurred, plunging 600 million people in India into darkness and leaving 300 million without access to modern energy services. For a group of young Australians, this event was a catalyst for change that spawned Pollinate Energy (PE), an organization that offers sustainable solutions to social problems in urban India. PE does social good by enabling access to sustainable technologies, making these resources available and affordable to groups that would otherwise not have access. PE’s success has been made possible by the organization remaining fully accountable to the customer by working with communities to better understand their evolving needs and providing products and services that meet those needs.

AECOM is currently a sponsor of the organization’s Young Professionals Program (YPP), which is held several times per year. Through YPP, PE remains committed to supporting the next generation of social entrepreneurs — offering programs in India that equip them with the leadership, problem-solving and innovation skills necessary to create positive change.

I was recently provided the opportunity to participate in YPP and spent two amazing weeks in Bangalore, India. The result was 13 individuals from different backgrounds thinking intensively, discussing and researching day and night about topics such as climate change, innovative ways of thinking to greatly influence the lives of others, how little ideas can make a big social impact, and how we can all help to make a difference. Our daily work revolved around redesigning and improving training processes, so that PE can more effectively access additional families around the country.

We also participated in workshops on career development, leadership for change, and exploration of self during the mornings, which left the afternoons to work on our projects with water filters and research. On these projects, we concentrated on sustainable solutions to improve quality of life and developed the training processes for new locations.

During this program, I had the opportunity to see firsthand what it means for an organization to create and provide sustainable solutions. I saw how important it is to make the people you’re helping part of the change and how giving them the tools they need can really make a difference in improving their way of life. It is a program I strongly encourage other people to pursue.

As an architect, I think spaces empower people, and cities make the societies we call home. So let’s create better environments and infrastructure that will foster the improved quality of life that we all deserve.

Check out more Pollinate India blog posts on the AECOM Impact blog! 


AECOM is a premier, fully integrated professional and technical services firm positioned to design, build, finance and operate infrastructure assets around the world for public- and private-sector clients. With nearly 100,000 employees — including architects, engineers, designers, planners, scientists and management and construction services professionals — serving clients in over 150 countries around the world, AECOM is ranked as the #1 engineering design firm by revenue in Engineering News-Record magazine’s annual industry rankings, and has been recognized by Fortune magazine as a World’s Most Admired Company. The firm is a leader in all of the key markets that it serves, including transportation, facilities, environmental, energy, oil and gas, water, high-rise buildings and government. AECOM provides a blend of global reach, local knowledge, innovation and technical excellence in delivering customized and creative solutions that meet the needs of clients’ projects. A Fortune 500 firm, AECOM companies, including URS Corporation and Hunt Construction Group, had revenue of approximately $19 billion during the 12 months ended March 31, 2015. More information on AECOM and its services can be found at

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