Last December, President Clinton traveled to Brooklyn to see how Donnel Baird and his organization, BlocPower, are working to implement energy efficiency upgrades in the Cornerstone Baptist Church. Photo taken in 2019.
NEW YORK, NY — Donnel Baird is a community organizer in every sense of the word. As a child growing up in the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, Baird witnessed firsthand the realities of not having reliable power at home. “I remember how inefficiently we would heat our one-bedroom apartment. When it got cold outside, we would turn on the stove and open the oven door,” says Baird.
It was this firsthand experience that inspired Baird to found BlocPower, an organization dedicated to reducing greenhouse gases and lowering utility rates for families in underserved communities across the country. Their goal is to expand clean energy in all of America’s inner cities.
As a student at Duke University in 2013, Baird applied to CGI University with his Commitment to Action to bring clean energy to communities in inner cities. He attended the annual CGI University student event at Washington University in St. Louis, where he met more than 1,000 student entrepreneurs and innovators committed to turning their ideas into action.
As part of the program, Baird participated in a service project led by President Bill Clinton, where he helped install solar panels at a local school in St. Louis, Missouri. This experience helped Baird formulate and implement a model for his company, BlocPower.
President Clinton in Brooklyn, where BlocPower founder Donnel Baird talks about his work completing thousands of energy retrofits across the United States, following a commitment made at CGI University in 2013. [Video produced in 2019]
Baird saw immediately how the solar panels had the potential to be transformative. “The savings from the solar panels were going to pay for the upfront cost of the panels. That’s a really great idea, and we’ve tried to build a business around it,” explains Baird.
Retrofitting a building so that it can be powered efficiently by a renewable energy source is expensive. While these investments yield predictable and reliable returns, many churches, nonprofits, charter schools, and small businesses are too small to get approved for traditional loans. To help manage these challenges, BlocPower partners with these groups and assembles them into “blocs” of four or more potential retrofits.
Last December, President Clinton went to see BlocPower’s work in action at Cornerstone Baptist Church, one of the oldest churches in the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. There, he met with Baird and BlocPower and saw firsthand how they have helped implement energy efficiency upgrades, such as efficient lights and a new cooling system.
As a student at Duke University in 2013, Baird attended CGI University with a Commitment to Action to bring clean energy to communities in inner cities. To date, his organization BlocPower has completed energy retrofits in nearly 1,000 schools, small businesses, nonprofits, and churches. Photos taken in 2019.
“This might seem like a small project,” President Clinton told administrators and church-goers during the visit, “but this is a picture through which you can see a better future for a church that is 102 years old.”
For his part, Baird believes that the CGI University community, which is predicated on the notion that we all do better when we work together, has helped to drive BlocPower’s growth. “The early advice from the Clinton Global Initiative University really allowed us to create a business model that we could grow to scale,” he explains.
To date, BlocPower has completed energy retrofits in nearly 1,000 schools, small businesses, nonprofits, and churches. The organization is well on its way to expanding outside of New York City. On Earth Day, BlocPower launched “Retrofit Milwaukee,” a campaign to help small businesses, faith institutions, schools, health clinics, and apartment buildings in Milwaukee transition to cleaner, healthier, and more cost-efficient heating and cooling equipment.
Years after he attended his first CGI University event, Baird continues to give back. In 2017, he was named to the CGI U “Honor Roll,” which recognizes extraordinary alumni who have made a significant impact through their CGI U Commitments to Action and careers. Through this and his continued participation over the years, Baird helps exemplify the extraordinary progress that can be achieved when young leaders work together to turn their ideas into action.
“One of the main goals of IBM’s Call for Code global initiative is to use open source technology to tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges. I’m proud of our like-minded partnership with CGI U that equips students with the skills they need to be on the front lines of that endeavor.”
“I support CGI University because we share a belief in empowering our next generation of leaders. CGI U students work hard and creatively to tackle global challenges — including the current COVID-19 pandemic. By investing in their talent and unleashing their ideas we will create a better world, together.”