Donna Morton Fellow 2011
Living in: Delta, BC — Canada
Venture: First Power
Putting clean energy, jobs and equity into the hands of communities.
Operating in: North America
Impact Area: Clean and Green Technology, Climate Change, Community...
"Power to the People: Driven by innovation and a commitment to future generations"
Describe yourself briefly.
CEO & co-founder of First Power, with a mission to put clean energy, jobs and equity in the hands of first nations and other communities. Elected an Unreasonable Institute fellow for building one of the worlds best social innovation start ups, she is also an Ashoka fellow for her work with the Centre for Integral Economics (CIE). CIE promotes market-based solutions to social and environmental sustainability.
She has been active in the social sector for almost 30 years. She went to jail for Greenpeace, built campaigns for NGO’s, founded several orgs & worked for US think tank Sightline Institute. More recent experience includes extensive consulting with businesses, governments,NGO’s and numerous first nation and aboriginal business organizations. Her expertise includes communications, economics, social enterprise startups, partnerships, economic development and film making.
Donna has spoken or keynoted events including: BALLE, Bioneers, VBN, arts, health, women’s and policy organizations. She has done extensive media including CBC budget commentaries and has been featured in the Financial Post, Globe and Mail and numerous magazine articles as well as radio interviews.
Describe your Unreasonable Venture in 100 words or less.
First Power is a unique organization that blends business innovation with social purpose.
Our vision is simple: to put green energy technology along with jobs and economic benefits into the hands of communities..
First Power works with the Centre for Integral Economics – an award-winning charitable organization that specializes in education and community based economics to provide additional community development benefits. .
Through diverse partnerships, innovative planning and oral and graphic based communications; we support communities in owning renewable energy.
What We Do
• We make renewable energy solutions available to First Nations and other communities.
• We work with communities to envision, plan and integrate renewable energy Into larger goals while building conservation programs tied to the culture..
• We create jobs, training and economic development opportunities in the renewable energy industry.
• We build partnerships between diverse sectors to provide holistic solutions to support economic and community development, fund-raising and financing.
Describe your relevant experience (especially entrepreneurial).
12 years ago people said that a carbon tax was impossible in Canada and 3 years ago it happened. Many people, including the NGO I started, the Centre for Integral Economics CIE, made it happen. Through CIE, I was honoured with an Ashoka Fellowship. Today CIE is leading the education and capacity work alongside First Power.
I co-founded Waterstone Strategies, a consultancy that supported First Nation economic development and communications including media training with Chiefs.
I have also led the communications team of Northwest Environment Watch (now Sightline Institute), have done extensive media work for Greenpeace and co-founded an organization that spoke on behalf of future generations.
First Power harnesses everything I know about communities, communications and and commerce.
Why is your team uniquely qualified to run this venture?
We have a strong capacity to build relationships; with First Nations and other communities, technology companies, utilities and governments.
In brief: 2 full time employees and co-founders Donna Morton and Chief Technology Officer, Joe Thwaites, an engineer with 20 years as a renewable energy entrepreneur and visionary.
Culture and conservation director Mark Gauti is a respected First Nations artist.
Primary partnerships with Transformations, a First Nations economic and social development agency, Vancouver Island University and BC Hydro.
Part time and contractors include highly experienced office manager, accountant, videographer, education specialist and a grant writer/planner.
We are technically innovative, strong communicators and we co-develop projects with communities.
What is the urgent social or environmental need you're addressing?
Remote and poor communities around the world rely on dirty and expensive diesel or other fossil fuel based power.
From meetings with hundreds of aboriginal leaders in Canada, Australia, Thailand and India there is an imperative to get rid of diesel generators, gain energy independence, improve health and put scarce money to better use. In the Hesquiaht language:" Hish uk ish tsa walk", everything is interconnected. We must solve energy issues while addressing poverty and climate change.
Conventional commercial renewable energy projects merely "accommodate" communities rather than give them the opportunity to share in development, jobs and significant/majority ownership.
Communities should not be forced to choose between feeding their elders or paying for diesel heat, light and power.
What is your solution to this need? Describe your business strategy.
The answer is Integrated solutions that harness renewable energy to drive job creation and economic development, while averting climate impacts.
100% renewable energy power can be financed by harnessing the amount saved from the cost of fossil fuel to capitalize projects.
When the community is involved in developing energy projects, it can then include complete solutions. Our energy projects boast majority or complete community ownership which keep profits in communities where they can be leveraged for future economic development.
Business model includes service fees to co-develop projects, carbon credits while allowing for fair equity in commercial projects. Unlike conventional developers the community is always in charge and able to meet complex needs and build pride.
These projects can empower and literally create the energy to end poverty.
Convince us it will work. What milestones have you achieved?
Milestones to date:
Assembly of First Nations (Canadian umbrella org) Grand Chief support letter for the Hesquiaht 100% renewable project.
3 First Nation communities as clients on small projects ($5,000 to $150,000) several more in development.
1 Deep partnership with Hesquiaht and BC Hydro to pilot our meaningful engagement co-development process ($5 million scale).
Elder we admire saying:"Best thing about 2010 was meeting you guys"
Scalable partnerships with organizations of varying sizes, small innovators to very large financial organizations.
International interest such as speaking requests and requests to develop projects (5 countries to date) .
Media: book profiles: "The Entrepreneurs" by Andrew Heintzman and "Moonrise", edited by Nina Simons.