5 December 2019

Life at the intersections

Innovative problem solving has as its core a simple idea: the possibility that one problem may contain within it the solution to another problem. Intersections are the most lively places to be, full of possibility, potential, danger, and vitality. How easy it is to fall into the mindset of trying to solve problems with the very means that created the problem in the first place. Bob Blake is in the work of finding these intersection points.

Bob is the creator and owner of Solar Bear, a solar installation company who’s addressing a variety of big-picture issues through the lens of an environmental justice mindset. His current project on the Red Lake Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota is aiming to create a tribal-owned renewable energy company. The idea is that this could be a major driver for economic opportunities for the region and act as a model for the development of other such initiatives in other areas.

This project goes beyond simply providing electrical power to the native community. Himself a member of the Red Lake Band of Ojibwe Indians, Bob sees the ability to create and own electrical power as a means of providing another kind of power: independence. This independence is a necessity when it comes to the flourishing of the human spirit.

He speaks of this as not simply work, but as an opportunity for a moral reclamation for the Native American people.

“I thought to myself, we were here first and so we have a responsibility to take care [of the land]. If no one else is going to do it, then we have to do it and we should definitely lead on this and lead by example… I’m saying to Native people, ‘We can’t take back this land physically… but we can take back this land morally.’”

Looking ahead, Bob sees the troubling future that climate change will bring about. At the core of his work is the idea that if our environment is unhealthy, we as people are unhealthy. But the inverse is also true: making our environment healthier makes us healthier. Everything is interconnected. 

This brings us back to the unlikely intersections that color Bob’s work. Solar Bear is also working with prison inmates, giving them the skills to install solar panels. “Why not put them to work? Instead of paying $50,000 for them to sit in a cell, let’s pay them $50,000 to work… Let’s take one dollar and turn it into seven!” he says with enthusiasm.”

People need purpose. Our best hope as a society for reducing recidivism rates is to give inmates purpose. Solar Bear is also engaged in education initiatives including a forthcoming program in collaboration with the Science Museum of Minnesota. And so it is that Bob created Solar Bear. Yes it’s a solar company but it’s so much more. Addressing issues relating to the environment, community empowerment, tribal culture, education, workforce development, and mass incarceration to name a few, his work of finding unlikely intersections continues and is continually expanding.

Solar Bear website: https://solarbear.earth/