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Local woman receives Mandela Washington Fellowship

BJ Allen, RREAL Special projects Manager. Photo from RREAL 'Meet our Team' page at

PINE RIVER—The Rural Renewable Energy Alliance's project manager and electrical engineer, BJ Allen, recently received the Mandela Washington Fellowship.

This reciprocal exchange will allow her to travel to Zambia to collaborate with Muzalema Mwanza, a 2017 Mandela Washington Fellow with experience in solar, rural communities and mentoring young girls. Together they will develop the solar workforce in Mundulundulu Village, Siavonga, in Zambia.

"Solar will not only provide a clean, reliable and affordable source of electricity compared to costly fuels like kerosene, it will also provide opportunities for community empowerment through green jobs," Allen stated in a news release.

As an initial solar project, Allen will bring solar suitcases to Zambia for a clinic Muzalema works with. The solar suitcase includes a small solar panel with a battery used to power a light. These small portable solar energy systems can light up off-grid maternal health facilities that previously had no access to light, which will improve health care delivery for mothers and newborns.

After this initial visit, Allen, along with RREAL, intends to return to Zambia to create scalable community-based energy models with solar. This will include building local capacity for a rural renewable energy economy through training in solar system installation, operations, maintenance, and business development.

Allen has over 10 years of experience in the solar industry and was the project manager for RREAL's Skip the Grid project, PV for Phebe, where she and her colleagues worked with the local people to build a solar microgrid for Phebe hospital in Liberia, a country in west Africa. Allen hopes this partnership will build stronger ties between the U.S. and Africa.

"As part of our Skip the Grid project, solar provides a win-win for everyone by supporting human needs and protecting the planet we all share," Allen said.

RREAL Director Jason Edens was also excited about the project, stating in the release, "Solar energy and consistent electricity leads to better health outcomes in addition to the environmental benefits."

The U.S. Department of State and IREX selected about 50 Americans to receive this award as part of a new component of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. "Allen and RREAL are proud to be a part of the fellowship that brings young leaders from countries across sub-Saharan Africa to the United States for academic coursework and leadership training, providing Fellows with new skills they can use to lead their organizations, communities and countries," the release stated.

Those interested in volunteering or learning more about RREAL, visit or call 218-587-4753.

To learn more about Mwanza and her accomplishments, visit