Aisa Mijeno: Filipina APEC star

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

On the opening day of the APEC meeting, two of the speakers at the CEO Forum were Barack  Obama of the United States and  Xi Jinping of China. The two most important world leaders had vastly contrasting styles and chose two different themes for their presentations.

Obama on climate change

Obama focused his talk on the vital need for the world to address climate change. He emphasized that the effects of climate change had already caused major ecological disasters including Typhoon Yolanda and the continuous sinking of the island nation of Kiribati. He then pushed for more investments in renewable energy, like wind and solar – citing examples in the United States and around the world including the Philippines. In this country, the company that leads in renewable energy is the Energy Development Corporation (EDC), whose projects focus on renewable energy – geothermal, wind and solar. For Oscar Lopez, EDC’s head, renewable and clean energy is not just a business but also a social mission.

Instead of a long speech, Obama sat down with two persons and engaged them in a conversation on how the business community can provide the necessary impetus and resources for renewable energy projects.

He sat down with Jack Ma of Ali Baba, a China-based company now one of the world’s largest e-commerce business conglomerates. The other person was Aisa Mijeno, head of a small start-up company in the Philippines whose energy product is aimed at providing electricity for poor households living on islands with no access to electricity.

Xi Jinping on China’s economic initiatives

President Xi focused his speech on two topics. The first was on   the “less than healthy global economy.” The second was his concern that the rise of other trading blocs could lead to “worries to fragmentation” of APEC as a Free Trade Area.

Xi was obviously referring to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), an emerging common market of 12 APEC nations, including the United States and Japan but excludes China. He then recited the different initiatives of China in the area of trade agreements. These were clearly more of bilateral or multilateral agreements very different from the TPP.

Xi discussed the different Free Trade Agreements (FTA) China was negotiating. These are the China-ASEAN FTA; the China Australia FTA; and, the trilateral FTA between China, Japan and South Korea. However, it was clear that these FTAs were still only in the discussion stage. Xi also said that the China-led Regional Cooperative Economic Agreement (RCEP) would be “concluded at an early date.” The details are not yet clear, but the RCEP is supposed to be an alternative to the TPP. It should be noted that the proposed RCEP excludes the United States.

Hopefully, the APEC will be able to work out a compromise that will allow different trade agreements to co-exist.

Aisa Mijeno

She is a Filipina who has suddenly been thrust on the world stage after being chosen to join President Obama and multi billionaire Jack Ma as one of three discussants on climate change and renewable energy at the APEC CEO Forum.

Aisa and Raphael Mijeno are a brother and sister team that has invented a lighting system whose target market are the poorest of the poor who live in areas with no access to electricity. The Mijeno lamp does not require electricity, batteries or fuel. All it needs to provide light are two basic and natural elements – salt and water.

All one needs to do is to dissolve two tablespoons of salt in a glass of water and pour into the lamp and it provides light for eight hours. It also has a USB slot which can be used for charging a mobile phone.

The lamp is especially useful if the person lives near the sea since saltwater is then readily available. This lamp is especially beneficial to those living in remote islands where there is no power grid. An added bonus is that the lamp makes use of a LED bulb and gives out about 90 lumens equivalent to the brightness of seven candles or a low-LED bulb.

During the forum chaired by Obama, Aisa Mijeno narrated that she was motivated by her immersion experience living with a native tribe in Kalinga where people did not have access to electricity and had to use kerosene as fuel for their lamps. They had to walk 12 hours to reach the town where they could buy kerosene. Not only was this fuel expensive but it was also dangerous because it could cause fires and was a source of pollution.

In 2010, she had to give up her NGO job and joined De La Salle University-Lipa to teach engineering. Luckily in 2013, the start up incubator Ideaspace Foundation held a technopreneurship bootcamp in DLSU-Lipa, as part of its annual competition. Mijeno’s proposal for the saltwater fuelled lamp was accepted and the foundation provided funds and support for her and Raphael, her brother, to start their company “Startup Alternative Lighting” or SALt.

According to Aisa, the technology is “not rocket science” and is “taught in high school chemistry classes.”What is even more surprising is that 70 percent of the earth’s surface is saltwater and yet only a Filipina thought of using this vast resource as a source for lighting up lamps.

The Mijenos have discovered a technology that deserves world recognition because it will make a big difference in the lives of the poor all over the world especially those living on islands. Aisa and Raphael Mijeno  make  us proud to be Filipino.

Adult writing class series continues

The Personal Essay with Paulynn Paredes Sicam on November 21, 2015 (1:30-5:30 pm) at Fully Booked Bonifacio High Street. Paulynn Paredes Sicam is a journalist and editor.  She writes a weekly column for the Philippine STAR.  For registration and fee details contact 0917-6240196/ writethingsph@gmail.com.

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Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

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