Ending energy poverty is a critical first step toward promoting prosperity especially in a world that runs on globalized commerce and the internet. At the current rate of progress, 650 million people will still lack access to electricity in 2030. The Washington Post gathers policymakers and government leaders on the frontlines, who are galvanizing action among investors and utilities and organizing collective action.

The program will consider the scope of the problem and current solutions underway: from the most pressing concerns around access to power in sub-Saharan Africa to the issue of affordability and the creation of green jobs in the United States.


UN Under Secretary-General Vera Songwe says the attraction of independent power producers in Africa has done really well, but adds standardization of programs is important because that way "investors know what to expect, countries know what to offer and it makes those deals much easier to close." (Washington Post Live)
Former U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz says the coronavirus crisis has probably resulted in more people living without access to energy than a year ago, explaining that the economic impact of the pandemic has left many unable to afford "the access that was so hard won over these last years." (Washington Post Live)
San José is one of the largest cities with an all-electric mandate in the works. Mayor Sam Liccardo says the program helps the city lower energy costs for consumers. “Through the San Jose Clean Energy Initiative we’re able to provide electricity, procure electricity, at a cost slightly below the cost on the incumbent investor-owned utility…We’re able to do that because we’re not burdened with legacy contracts that those investor-owned utilities have from decades ago.” (Washington Post Live)
New Bedford, Massachusetts, Mayor Jon Mitchell said despite the Trump Administration's lack of attention to reducing the carbon footprint of cities across the country, we've seen cities still make progress. He says federal participation is needed to accelerate efforts. "Mayors want to do more still, they are prepared to do it...We need a federal partner to accelerate those efforts so it is timely that a new administration is coming in." (Washington Post Live)


Ernest Moniz, Former U.S. Secretary of Energy

Ernest J. Moniz served as the thirteenth United States Secretary of Energy from 2013 to January 2017. As Secretary, he advanced energy technology innovation, nuclear security and strategic stability, cutting-edge capabilities for the American scientific research community, and environmental stewardship. He placed energy science and technology innovation at the center of the global response to climate change and negotiated the Iran nuclear agreement alongside the Secretary of State.

Dr. Moniz joined the Massachusetts Institute of Technology faculty in 1973 and was Founding Director of the MIT Energy Initiative. He is the Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physics and Engineering Systems emeritus and Special Advisor to the MIT President. Dr. Moniz is co-chairman of the Board of Directors and CEO of the Nuclear Threat Initiative and CEO of the Energy Futures Initiative. He served on Boards of numerous companies, non-profits and government agencies in the energy and security arenas.

Dr. Moniz received a Bachelor of Science degree summa cum laude in physics from Boston College, a doctorate in theoretical physics from Stanford University, and ten honorary doctorates from American and European universities. He received the Distinguished Public Service Medal of the Department of Defense, the Grand Cross of the Order of Makarios III (Cyprus) and of the Order of Prince Henry the Navigator (Portugal), the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun (Japan) and the inaugural Award for Excellence in Public Policy and Public Affairs of the American Academy of Arts and Science.

Vera Songwe, United Nations Under Secretary-General

Vera Songwe is the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA). Upon her appointment, she became the first woman to lead the institution in its 60-year history. As Executive Secretary, Songwe’s reforms have focused on “ideas for a prosperous Africa”, and have brought to the fore critical issues of macroeconomic stability, development finance, private sector growth, poverty and inequality, the digital transformation, trade and competitiveness.

Recently listed as one of Africa’s 50 most powerful women by Forbes, named as one of the ‘100 Most Influential Africans’ by Jeune Afrique in 2019, ‘100 Most Influential Africans’ by New African Magazine in 2017 and one of the ’25 African to watch’ by the FT in 2015, Songwe is acknowledged for her long-standing track record of providing policy advice and her wealth of experience in delivering development results for Africa. She has written extensively on development and economic issues including on debt, infrastructure development, fiscal and governance issues. She is well published and contributes to the development debate across a broad spectrum of platforms including in the Financial Times.

Prior to ECA, she held a number of senior leadership roles with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and World Bank.

San José Mayor Sam Liccardo

Mayor Sam Liccardo took office in 2015. In his very first year, Sam settled intense battles over pension reform with 11 unions, saving taxpayers $3 billion over the next three decades and enabling the restoration of San José’s police force. Since then, he’s led the most successful period of economic growth in the city’s history, announcing major expansions from employers like Adobe, Apple, Broadcom, and Google.

Sam’s work to support job creation and responsible development in San José has always included an incredible focus on serving those who have traditionally been left behind. As part of his ambitious “Smart City Vision,” Sam strives to make San José the most innovative city in America while bridging Silicon Valley’s divide. Upon launching the nation’s first Digital Inclusion Fund, Sam’s leadership helped bring equitable access to broadband, devices, and skills to underserved communities. Sam’s “San José Works” program has also flourished across the city, providing summer and year-round jobs for more than 3,000 teens from gang-impacted neighborhoods.

As Mayor, Sam has implemented innovative approaches to reduce homelessness for vulnerable members of the community, including veterans, college students, and residents in need of interim housing. Sam represents San José on several boards and commissions—including the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and Valley Transit Authority—and effectively championed measures that delivered much needed transit improvements throughout the region. Committed to taking bold steps to protect the environment, Sam helped preserve priceless open spaces for the future and establish groundbreaking renewable energy sources for San José.

A descendant of Sicilian and Irish immigrants, Sam’s lineage also includes the first Mexican settlers in the Bay Area. Sam graduated from Georgetown University and later attended the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard Law School for his master’s degree. After a career in public service as a criminal prosecutor at the local and federal level, Sam ran for San José City Council in 2006 and served two terms. Mayor Liccardo was re-elected with overwhelming support by San Joséans in 2018 and 76% of the vote.

New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell

Jon Mitchell has served as mayor of New Bedford, America’s top commercial fishing port, since 2012. In November 2013, he was the city’s first sitting mayor since 1866 not to be opposed for reelection, has won reelection three more times by decisive margins, and was elected to New Bedford’s first four-year mayoral term in 2019.

As mayor, he has sought to reestablish New Bedford as one of the leading cities in the Northeast – moving aggressively to reform the city’s growth, modernize its port, promote job growth, solidify downtown New Bedford as the economic and cultural center of Southeastern Massachusetts, and elevate the quality of life in every neighborhood. Under his leadership, the school system’s dropout rate is now at a fifteen-year low and test scores have risen steadily, and neighborhood quality of life is markedly better thanks to a sharp drop in crime, the construction of new parks along with the Harborwalk and Covewalk, and the establishment of the state’s first municipal arts fund.

Under Mayor Mitchell’s leadership, New Bedford also has emerged as one of America’s greenest cities. Among other initiatives, the city has doubled its recycling rate by modernizing its trash collection system, replaced over 10,000 street lights with LED bulbs, retrofitted dozens of city buildings with energy efficient features, and has Massachusetts’s largest municipal fleet of electric vehicles. His aggressive cultivation of solar electricity production led the Wall Street Journal to report that New Bedford was first in the continental U.S. in installed solar capacity per capita. Mayor Mitchell has also strived to position New Bedford to become a leader of the American offshore wind industry through the New Bedford Wind Energy Center, the first municipal agency in America devoted to cultivating offshore wind.

Before taking office, Mayor Mitchell worked as an Assistant United States Attorney in Boston, prosecuting cases in the areas of white collar crime, firearms, narcotics, environmental crime, and public corruption. Many of his cases were of national importance, including his service as the prosecutor on the task force searching for Boston mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger. He served six years in the Army National Guard. He is married to Dr. Ann Partridge, a professor of medicine at the Harvard Medical School and a breast oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where she founded and directs the Institute’s Program for Young Women with Breast Cancer. They are the proud parents of three daughters.

Content from The Rockefeller Foundation

Content from The Rockefeller Foundation (Washington Post Live)

Ashvin Dayal, Senior Vice President, Power and Climate, The Rockefeller Foundation

Ashvin Dayal leads The Rockefeller Foundation’s global power initiative aimed at scaling up energy access in order to drive economic and social development. He has overseen the Foundation’s pioneering investments in the renewable energy mini-grid space in India and the establishment of Smart Power India, a dedicated platform to support the acceleration of last-mile electrification. He is now building out a portfolio in sub-Saharan Africa where the Foundation will support innovative models to integrate grid and off-grid solutions in order to accelerate the pace and reduce the cost of electrification. As one of the Foundation’s long-term priorities, Ashvin is responsible for shaping its global power investments with an ambitious goal of ending energy poverty and improving the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people over the next decade.

Mr. Dayal joined the Rockefeller Foundation in 2008 as its Asia Managing Director, running the Foundation’s regional office in Bangkok, Thailand. From there he led the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network, a major nine-year partnership that equipped over 50 Asian cities to better cope with climate change impacts. He also oversaw the Foundation’s global Inclusive Economies portfolio, a policy and research effort to advance development and impact investments that drive more broadly shared prosperity. Before joining the Foundation, he held a range of senior leadership roles over 15 years with Oxfam in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. This included leading its largest-ever relief and recovery effort in the aftermath of the 2004 Asian Tsunami, and overseeing the creation of Oxfam India. Ashvin holds a bachelor’s degree from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, and a master’s degree from the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins.

Robert Stoner, Deputy Director for Science and Technology, MIT Energy Initiative

Robert Stoner is the Deputy Director for Science and Technology of the MIT Energy Initiative, and Founding Director of the MIT Tata Center for Technology and Design. He also serves on the MIT Energy Council, the Science and Technology Committee of the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the Rockefeller Foundation funded Global Commission to End Energy Poverty, and as President of the International Conservation Fund.

Stoner is a serial entrepreneur and the inventor and co-inventor of numerous computational and ultrafast optical measurement techniques. From 2007 through 2009 he lived and worked in Africa and India while serving in a variety of senior roles within the Clinton Foundation, including as the CEO of the Clinton Development Initiative. For the past decade his research at MIT has been at the intersection of energy technology, society and computation, with an emphasis on power system design, optimization and regulation in developing countries.

Stoner earned his bachelor’s degree in engineering physics from Queen’s University in Canada, and his Ph.D. in condensed matter physics from Brown University where he was also an adjunct member of the engineering faculty from 1995 through 2002.

Interviewed by Elise Labott, Adjunct Professor, American University

Elise Labott is a leading journalist covering foreign US foreign policy and international issues, most recently as CNN’s Global Affairs Correspondent. She has reported from more than . 80 countries, traveled the world with seven secretaries of state and has interviewed many world leaders and newsmakers. Elise is the founder of Twopoint.o Media, a digital media platform that aims to engage, inform and inspire citizens to solve today’s most pressing global challenges, and an adjunct professor at American University’s School of International Service. She is a contributor to Politico, provides commentary for MSNBC, NPR, BBC and several other broadcast outlets and is a sought-after interviewer and moderator. Elise also serves as a global ambassador for Vital Voices, an organization that empowers female entrepreneurs around the world and is on the advisory committee of Global Kids DC, a program which introduces high school students in underserved communities to international affairs. Prior to joining CNN, Elise covered the UN for ABC News and also reported on diplomatic and foreign policy issues for Agence France-Presse and other publications. Elise is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and earned a master’s degree from the New School for Social Research.