Reyhan Jamalova: Turning Rain into Power for Rural Communities
Welcome back! Spiffy here, your interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs working to make this world more equitable. Today I’m super excited to be in Azerbaijan to learn how Reyhan Jamalova and her company, Rainergy are tackling SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy in rainy rural places.
Spiffy: How do you do, Reyhan? I’d love to know what problem you're aiming to solve?
Reyhan: I’m doing well, Spiffy! Rainergy is a project that aims to solve the energy deficiency problem in rural parts of rainy countries with generators that produce electricity from rainwater. Millions of children in these communities lack access to electricity, technology, and, therefore, a quality education. At Rainergy, we’re set on our mission of giving children light—a hope for a brighter future by “Lighting up One House at a Time.” Our next goal is to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the air.
Spiffy: That’s an amazing goal, what motivated you to do this?
Reyhan: In the Caucasus Mountains in Azerbaijan, where I grew up, we have torrential rains throughout the year, causing floods, building damage, and crop loss. That, coupled with a lack of attention from local authorities, meant that our local electricity grid was riddled with sudden failures. One day in November 2016, staring at the gurgling streams of rain outside my window in candlelight, it occurred to me how hard it is for people to live in a permanent power outrage with heavy rains in their regions throughout the year, which led me to find the idea behind Rainergy. As a 14-year-old girl with ambitions to solve the energy problem of our future, I marked the start of my journey to contribute to a global solution to the world’s energy problem.
Spiffy: How is Rainergy working to create a more equitable world?
Reyhan: Research shows that 33 million people reside in rural parts of rainy countries and lack access to electricity. In a world with rapid technological advancements, where we cannot imagine living without having any access to electricity and the internet, these communities live something we consider impossible. The global energy deficiency problem affects them across the board—it weakens their children’s education, health, and because of the lack of electricity, they can not develop as much as other parts of the world. Our main goal is to provide these communities with sustainable rain energy by lighting up one house at a time, thus making our world more equitable for them to live.
Spiffy: Tell me about a recent milestone you’ve reached with Rainergy?
Reyhan: While in quarantine, I started the "Leadership Friends" project within Rainergy to help young people grow as leaders and entrepreneurs. I organized weekly interactive workshops to build participants’ public speaking, personal growth, and leadership skills. I invited guest speakers from relevant industries. By the end of five weeks, my students were feeling more empowered and confident about their business ideas. I was proud to see one participant, Narmin, start her own initiative with a similar mission, “The Global Youth Cooperation,” after being inspired by what she learned through Leadership Friends. It was thrilling to see how the program created a ripple effect among the younger generation, prompting them to create change themselves.
Spiffy: What’s a time you faced failure and how did you overcome it?
Reyhan: Elon Musk once said, “Being an entrepreneur is like eating glass and staring into an abyss. If you need external motivation to do it, then you should probably not do it.” In August 2017, my startup was falling apart. The generator we built for three months sleeplessly burned four days before we had to pitch our model at the competition. The only option we had was to redesign the generator model from scratch—meaning three month’s worth of work in four days. I simply wanted to quit. That is when Elon’s words occurred to me. Now, it was time to eat the glass. I gave the most effective speech of my life to my team. Luckily, everyone decided to continue rebuilding the prototype model. At the final, we won the "Audience Favorite Startup" award.
Spiffy: What a turnaround! I’m excited to see the impact Rainergy has, Reyhan. Thank you for talking to me today, it’s been an honor.
Reyhan Jamalova is an upcoming freshman at the University of Pennsylvania and founder and CEO of Rainergy. She was selected for the Forbes 30 Under 30 List in Asia as the first Azerbaijani, and BBC’s 100 Most Influential and Inspiring Women List of 2018. Reyhan is a 2018 Presidential Youth Award holder, 2019 TRT World Youth Award winner, the Global Good Fund 2020 Fellow, bp NetZero Scholar, and One Young World Ambassador. (Nominated by One Young World. First published on the Ladderworks website on July 9, 2021.)
© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Elias Ross Trupin. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s interviews of founders building a more equitable world here.