Hayes Barnard knows how much access to clean energy and water access can change a community. He’s also figured out how to fund it on a consistent basis without the need for charity galas, grant applications, large campaigns, and concerns about fluctuations in donations.
The former SolarCity executive is the founder and CEO of GoodLeap, a rooftop solar financing company backed by the likes of Michael Dell and now valued at $12 billion.
But before he launched GoodLeap, Barnard focused on another passion with possibly even greater disruptive potential. He founded GivePower, a nonprofit which installs water pumps and clean energy generators in poor communities. It also established a new model for philanthropy, tied to growing demand for clean energy and sustainable home improvements, which could revolutionize how charities obtain financial support.
The story of GivePower started in 2008 during the financial crisis, when Barnard went to a village in Mali, West Africa, to help build a school. He learned two important things: the community needed electricity to help power the community, as well as laptops and other devices in a local school. Secondly, he heard residents waking up at three or four in the morning to go get water. “I’m like, wow, they walk eight miles a day,” Barnard said.
When Barnard’s earlier startup Paramount Solar was acquired by solar energy company SolarCity in 2013, he pitched a philanthropic condition for the deal: For every megawatt deployed in the U.S., SolarCity would install solar power on a school somewhere in the developing world. The deal was solidified after a trip to Nicaragua to install solar power on a school.
Barnard’s pitch to companies: “What if $20 could provide 20 years of water for someone that needs it the most in the developing world?”
His nonprofit GivePower, launched in 2014, expanded into installing and providing clean water pumps after Barnard learned women in the Central American country were spending hours a day getting water. Sometimes the water came from dirty sources, causing severe health issues, and the women lost learning opportunities in the process of walking several miles a day.
“Women don’t want to sit in the classroom until seven or eight o’clock at night after they fetch water till noon every day,” Barnard said, noting the schools were almost entirely filled with boys. “What if we could create a magic water box that could produce enough water on a daily basis for everyone within the village? And could we leverage our background and solar and battery storage in an effort to build those systems?”
The philanthropic partnership Barnard first developed at SolarCity has now been integrated into GoodLeap. (SolarCity, founded by cousins of Elon Musk, was acquired by Tesla in 2016.)
GoodLeap’s finance technology platform connects installers of residential solar and sustainable home improvement projects with lenders. It offers homeowners point-of-sale loans similar to Klarna, Afterpay, or Affirm. GoodLeap raised $800 million in its most recent funding round in October 2021, putting its valuation at $12 billion.
The round was led by MSD Partners, an investment adviser affiliated with the founder of the Dell computer brand. The rapidly growing solar panel financing company has provided more than $10 billion in sustainable home improvement loans, with nearly half doled out in 2021 alone.
GoodLeap makes a donation to GivePower with every transaction on its platform. Barnard’s pitch to companies: “What if $20 could provide 20 years of water for someone that needs it the most in the developing world?”
The transaction metrics and giving ratios could be $20 per transaction, a penny per watt of solar energy, or $1 per solar panel that is installed. GoodLeap also handles all of the nonprofit’s operational expenses. “So people knew every dollar will go to a project in the field,” Barnard said.
But one of the unusual things GivePower provides is “sustainability as a service” through how it designs and implements its own systems. The organization has staff that bring teams of donors on treks to communities in Haiti, Nepal, Colombia, and Kenya to directly participate in the installation of GivePower’s clean water and solar energy systems.
GivePower handles all the logistics, as well as providing the metrics and implementation information of what happiness to donated funds, the stories of people affected, even the social media content for the partners to use in their own marketing or internal communications.
“They get to see the impact,” Barnard said. “You know where you’re going to deploy one of these systems, you’re going to save 30,000 peoples lives in the developing world that are drinking poison every day.”
“[The philanthropic model] reduces turnover within these companies, it connects the hearts and minds of these organizations together, and then we’re less of [only] a partner software provider for them.”
Donation agreements with GivePower are for five years, making financial planning easier. These long-term partnerships also free GivePower from the need for charity galas or other types of traditional non-profit fundraising. Partners include Google, Johnson & Johnson, and European telecommunications company Vodafone.
As a result of GivePower’s work and philanthropic model, Barnard said that he’s able to help partner companies interested in sustainability fulfill those goals while also increasing employee satisfaction and retention. Barnard said GivePower’s treks make participants grateful for their jobs in a way that goes beyond the paychecks. “It reduces turnover within these companies, it connects the hearts and minds of these organizations together, and then we’re less of a partner software provider for them,” he said.
“You just get this enormous positive charge when you see people cry for the first time they’ve seen running water, or the lights go on inside of one of these schools,” Barnard said about the previous trek participants. “They come back with GivePower tattoos.”