My name is Sawani Poornima Goonatilleke and I am a junior at the University of California, Riverside (UCR), pursuing a B.S. in Sustainability. I was born in Sri Lanka; what some people would call a “third-world” nation. Coming from a developing country that loses access to power without notice, I understand how valuable electricity is to maintain a functional lifestyle every day, and how backwards we become without power. It is easy for people living in developed nations take electricity for granted, but we must always remember that it is something essential to everyone and something we cannot prosper without. However, just because it is a necessity does not mean that we are unable to obtain power in a clean way, without harming our beautiful environment.
While searching for internships I was assisted by my university in identifying possible organizations to apply my skills while learning more about sustainability. I learned that GRID Alternatives is an organization that realizes the necessity and importance of clean energy. The first time I heard about GRID was in my Introduction to Sustainability class over the summer with Professor Sasser. We watched podcasts by GRID about women in the solar industry. It was the first time I saw what I was learning in my classes applied in the real world. GRID really illustrates the intersection of people and the changing environment. The triple bottom line at GRID Alternatives is a great example of this: People, Planet and Employment. GRID strives to provide no-cost solar to people in low-income households.
After interviewing at GRID, I was selected for a ten-week internship. The time spent at GRID Alternatives was certainly an eye-opening experience. From the first day I started, everyone welcomed me and made me feel comfortable, especially Loren who greeted me with a wide smile every morning. All the hard-working people at GRID deserves so much appreciation for making strides towards making our planet a cleaner place.
On my first day, I met Anthony, GRID IE’s multifamily project developer who identifies sites that could benefit from solar such as subsidized rental housing or mission aligned community buildings. This surprised and impacted me because I have lived in an apartment for most of my life. I know first-hand that many of the people living in apartments are low-income families. Families that feel they have little influence to positively change the environment because they have limited financial resources. Through GRID’s multifamily efforts, they have an opportunity to feel empowered and realize that they can make an impact.
Throughout my work at GRID, I have met numerous hardworking people like my manager Rawah who dedicates so much time to her work at GRID, and the marketing manager Cliff who interviewed me and expressed genuine concern for my life at school as well as my work at GRID. Working at GRID for 100 hours might seem long but it is not nearly enough time to learn all about what makes GRID an extraordinary nonprofit. Everyone at GRID is treated with the same amount of attention, whether they are an intern or manager. Regional Director Bambi Tran taught me this the first day I came here, how to be “leaderful” rather than just having the title of a leader.
I worked in the Outreach Department at GRID where I made calls to homeowners, researched Inland Empire events, organized mailers and developed a social media installation with the goal of providing information about the benefits of GRID installed solar systems. I learned many skills, but the most important skill I learned was how to communicate with others in a workplace. This being my first internship I had very limited experience on how to conduct myself in a workplace, but I learned fast.
My long-term career goal is to eventually work for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. I consider GRID my first step into getting into the industry of saving our depleting environment. After graduating from UCR, I would love to pursue research in the Global South on how people living in poor communities can have a more influential voice in making our planet a better place while also improving their lifestyle. I know that eventually GRID will spread throughout the U.S. and to every struggling region. Through GRID’s International Program, they are already in Nicaragua and Nepal, building a worldwide solar revolution.
If you are a seeking an internship, or would like to build practical skills in the solar industry, GRID Alternatives is your solution. You will have an opportunity to develop and expand on your knowledge and skills that can lead you to a clean energy job. If you would like to know more information about internships or other volunteer opportunities, you can reach our workforce development department by calling 951.272.4743 or visit gridalternatives.org/ie.