Dung Nguyen of  350.org Vietnam shares of a recent discussion organized in Vietnam around solar solutions.

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“Saturday yawning “ – we were greeting each other in front of Fablab Saigon at 7 AM. This timing on the weekend is really a bane of our generation, so used to city lifestyle. But soon, the café space where this very first Makers hold-up event co-organized by CHANGE and Fablab Saigon was filled with energetic conversation. Information boards were up, banners were up and those hazel eyes of approximately 20 young people, too, were lit up. The 45 minutes of ice-breaker had very strange atmosphere – it was so much straight forward and point-focused that we could almost begin to doubt its purpose of breaking the ice. “Why did you come here such early in the morning?”, “Are you working on Renewable Energy ?”, “Does anyone know the most updated figures in the Master Plan VII?”, “Can we fix the battery problem in solar product?”… I believe these are not the typical first-met questions and the participants “clicked” with each other right away on the fossil fuel and renewable energy topic. We all felt that solar power and renewable energy is not at all new idea to urban citizens in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). Yet the thought of investing in such a system for returns in 10 or 20 years is indeed alien to this prodigal young generation who have lost the saving-for-longterm habit of the old Vietnamese. Thus, rather than “cost over benefit” analysis, the action must be induced from other motives that can attract the youth such as patriotism, positive lifestyle or trendy habit.

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The hold-up event is a brainstorming and discussing practice adopted from makesense.org & introduced to the young community of thinkers and makers in HCMC by Fablab Saigon. CHANGE / 350 Vietnam was invited to be a challenge stakeholder of the first makesense hold-up event in Vietnam. The subject of this event was carefully crafted to literally scare off youngsters – “Solar energy solution and product ideas for practical application in the city and for personal use”. The participants were so diverse in their background and experienced in the field – from a hardware supplier for solar energy health-monitoring watch brand to a technical engineer working on solar energy portable charger, from NGO to private donor searching for new ideas and projects, from local students to international interns – but they had the same attitude of “acting now” towards the environment and energy issue in Vietnam. In short, they care and they care enough to act and they are brilliant with ideas. That was something I thought being long forgotten by this ignorant generation; I was happy to begin thinking that I might have been wrong.

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The discussion had two main sections, whole group brainstorming and idea development in 3 small groups. Guided questions for the whole group brainstorming were on-the-scene improvised based on the ideas popping up. With the implicit agreement that solar power products must be trendy and attractive to young people as well as applicable and friendly with their urban lifestyle, after 1.5 hour of dissecting the issue from end-user point of view to technical limitation, three most-voted ideas below were brought forward to group discussion:

  • Multi-functional solar power integrated helmet for bikers
  • Wifi-network powered by solar energy in public area
  • Multi-functional solar power watch
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CHANGE was surprised to be presented with three detailed projects including estimated budget and implementing plan by the end of the event. Solar helmet and solar watch are practical ideas for commercial products while the solar powered wifi network has a lot of potentials to further develop as a community project. By 1 PM, the event was long ended but participants were still lingering to discuss the feasibility of each idea and how it would raise public awareness.

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We are the first generation acting on climate change and we might be the last able to do it. That’s the message being passed on around the globe. It’s devastating… but I see from these people the unbelievable hope of overwhelming positivity. It’s an awesome time to be alive because we are given the opportunity to act and we still can.