The People and Ideas of Bellagio/

Kristina Skierka

Bellagio Residency: March 2023

Project: “The Future of the Future of Energy”

Kristina Skierka is an internationally acclaimed expert on distributed energy, renewables, and sustainability. She is a long-serving member of the United Nations Technical Advisory Group for SDG7 and has appeared on numerous news outlets, including CNN and The New York Times. Kristina came to Bellagio in March 2023 to reflect on her last decade of change-making and develop a narrative to make ending energy poverty – the central focus of Power for All – more accessible and compelling to a broader audience. She is the Founder and current CEO of Power For All, a global campaign dedicated to accelerating universal electrification with decentralized renewable energy (DRE).

Kristina Skierka on Why Women's Power is the Missing Ingredient in the Clean Energy Movement

When Kristina Skierka started Power for All in 2014, she designed a campaign to challenge business-as-usual approaches to power – social and political, as well as electrical power. The culture at the time encouraged women to just “lean in,” and she wanted to counter that. This phrase was everywhere in the business world at the time, encouraging women to make male-dominated spaces work for them. Instead of fighting to change the sticky floors and glass ceilings that protect the status quo, Kristina wanted to create an organization that would not only empower women but would put females in power. “We don’t need to lean in; we need to start up.” 

As a founder, Kristina aimed to confront two intrinsically connected issues through Power for All: gender equity and energy poverty. After more than two decades working in the male-led energy sector, Kristina was shocked by the lack of urgency in the global energy system to end the climate crisis. 

From her years working at the intersection of the public and private sectors to advance a clean energy revolution, Kristina knew it was critical to put mission-driven women at the center of Power for All’s efforts. Energy poverty in low-and middle-income countries disproportionately affects women and girls, impacting wide-ranging factors from their education access and economic opportunity to their ability to feel safe at night. So, when Power for All launched its in-country programs, they hired women for 100 percent of the Country Director roles. For Kristina, it was imperative that the organization put women in the driver’s seat. “Our original team included three amazing Country Directors from Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Zimbabwe,” Kristina reflects on Power for All’s beginning. “To this day, all three still work in the decentralized renewable energy (DRE) sector and have either built companies, such as Clean Tech Hub in Nigeria and Freetown Waste Transformers in Sierra Leone, or have continued to advocate for DRE in larger institutions like the World Bank and Asia Clean Energy Forum to support renewables-based energy access.” 

Power for All embraces the double entendre in its name, focusing on building access to electricity, which has an inherent connection to women’s power in society. Power for All argues that the DRE sector has the potential to not only combat energy poverty but also boost women’s choices, decision-making power, and overall well-being, ultimately driving gender equity. “From climate change to structural poverty, trying to solve today’s problems with yesterday’s ideas, leaders, and institutions will be a failure. Accelerating access to energy is a critical input to creating an on-ramp for diverse voices and nontraditional leaders from around the world – specifically women. We will change business as usual, because business as usual wasn’t created by us.”

The gendered effects of energy poverty are particularly evident in rural areas, but DRE, which is energy generated from a local renewable source rather than centralized power plants with distribution grids that may never come, offers a promising solution. The maize industry, for example, is one that stands to greatly benefit from DRE usage. Maize is typically ground up using machines that require diesel fuel, which is costly to mill owners and the environment. In Uganda, Power for All is working to advance energy efficiency in the maize value chain by expanding access to mini-grids, a DRE method that uses solar energy to power households. 

Kristina researched the gendered impacts of energy poverty during her time at the Bellagio Center in March 2023. She explored her identity as a female founder and why it’s particularly impactful when women are able to start their own organizations instead of working within the confines of existing institutions. Kristina discovered a “founders’ dividend” that comes with starting your own entity and results in social and political capital that can be used to create change. What’s more, she has witnessed firsthand the shifting power dynamics that can happen when women are in the lead. “There’s more advancement to be gained by building your own ladder instead of climbing someone else’s,” she says. 

“We need a systems change and an institutional change,” she notes. “We’re not creating an on-ramp for different voices, and history has shown us that our current systems’ structure is biased in terms of who gets acceptance, authority, and power.” Kristina points to the recent controversy over COP29’s advisory committee, which at first included 28 men and not one woman. “There’s just this default,” she says. “The global system isn’t particularly designed to incorporate women.” 

Kristina has seen firsthand what’s possible when women are equipped to lead. “Women don’t need to be empowered; we need to be in power. That’s what will make the difference.” Many women who have worked at Power for All have gone on to start their own organizations, and Kristina says this is one of the most rewarding parts of her work.

As she considers what’s next for her, Kristina draws inspiration from her time at Bellagio, which she calls an “intellectual Woodstock.” She will continue exploring ways to enable women’s power, both figuratively and literally, through her leadership and Power for All’s impact. 

To learn more about Kristina’s work, explore Power for All’s latest report: Powering Agriculture With Renewable Energy: A Just Transition for Food Systems

  • It’s been two years since my transformational experience at Bellagio. The time I spent with my cohort directly inspired the intersectional approach I’m working on that will equip our health sector in the Philippines with new practices to protect against climate-related health threats and advance our environmental sustainability.
    A Note from Kristina