Responding and Reforming: My Experience at the REELIH Conference in Brussels

Written by Lindsay Grier, Int’l Shelter Initiatives Fellow at Habitat for Humanity

One year ago, I was a university student in North Carolina, getting ready to graduate with little to no idea of what life would be like after finishing my studies. All I knew was that I had (thankfully!) secured a job with Habitat for Humanity International in Washington, DC, and I would be moving from my small town of Davidson to the big city in July. When friends and family asked me what my job would entail, I admitted honestly that in regards to the position, I knew very little.

Nine months ago, I came into the Habitat for Humanity office for my first day at work. Amidst a day of being inundated with new information, I was told that I would be involved with several energy-related projects, one of which would be REELIH, Habitat’s residential energy efficiency initiative in Eastern Europe. My colleagues asked me what I knew about residential energy efficiency, and I admitted honestly that in regards to the subject, I knew very little.

Three months ago, I learned that HFHI and USAID would be hosting a conference – “Reducing Energy Poverty by Energy Efficiency Projects in Residential Buildings: The Case for Eastern Europe.” After having spent six months learning about energy poverty in all of its complexity from my desk in DC, I was thrilled to hear that this conference would be taking place. More people, I was convinced, needed to understand the gravity of this issue! I knew from my research that REELIH’s facilitation of private-public sector interaction, management of residential buildings, and energy efficiency retrofits were effectively battling energy poverty in the region, all the while increasing residents’ quality of life. This conference, I knew, would be vital for knowledge sharing and communicating the importance of this work. I had to admit, however, that in regards to the process of conference preparation, I knew very little.

Three weeks ago, I was on a plane from DC to Brussels, Belgium. The REELIH project I had learned about from my desk was coming to life for me, and I was getting to play a part of the implementation of a conference that one year prior, I would have only been able to read about online. I watched in wonder and took detailed notes as practitioners presented their work, parliamentarians spoke about their priorities, and government officials called on attendees to come together in multi-sectoral partnerships to reduce energy poverty. Each perspective provided a new look into the importance of residential energy efficiency, especially for vulnerable and low-income households. I set up slideshows for panelists and distributed policy papers to attendees, engaging in conversations when I could to understand more about the benefits of using energy efficiency as a way to lower energy consumption. By the end of the conference, I could no longer say I knew very little about the issue – the breadth and depth of the discussions in Brussels had created a new level of awareness in me, and armed with this information, I knew I had to share it.

I now sit back at my desk in DC, eager for others to know and understand that a house is more than four walls and a roof, and that by increasing energy efficiency of homes, we can create shelter that is not just livable but that is comfortable for residents and that treats the environment (and residents’ pockets!) kindly. We must ensure that financial mechanisms, stakeholder communication processes, knowledge exchanges, and residential management systems all support this overarching goal of increasing residential energy efficiency to reduce energy poverty. Without prioritization of this issue, we risk disregarding residents’ health concerns, overall climate change, tenants’ financial instability, and environmental degradation.

There is too much at stake for us to ignore the need for comprehensive solutions. Now that I know, I am empowered to act, and I trust that by taking the time to learn about residential energy efficiency, you will experience the same. REELIH is ensuring that we know about this issue, because once we know, we are able to work in systemic, sustainable ways to deliver reform to the energy sector.

lindsay-grier Lindsay Grier is a 2016 Davidson College graduate with a BA in Hispanic Studies. Prior to joining Habitat for Humanity International as part of the Global Programs team, she spent time in Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Kenya working with human rights and poverty alleviation organizations. For her research on the role that language plays in mediating our world, Grier was awarded a presentation slot at the 2015 Midwest Association for Latin American Studies Annual Conference as well as the 2016 Hispanic Studies Award at Davidson College. She just returned from Habitat III in Quito, Ecuador, and will continue her fellowship with Habitat for Humanity through July 2017.