let there be light

Thoroughly enjoyed this Opinionator post by Tina Rosenberg. Africa has skipped landline technology altogether and moved straight to cell phone networks (which are far better — and cheaper — than the networks we have in Canada, by the way). Now, some areas seem poised to do the same with electricity, by skipping nationwide power grids altogether.

I attended an environmental fair in Nairobi last fall, and I was surprised by the number of booths touting solar lanterns designed for the rural poor (some of which also had an outlet to charge mobile phones, brilliant). However, they all had a similar pitch: buy this lantern and you’ll save money in the long run, because you no longer have to buy kerosene. From my non-expert perspective, it seemed that there was a major hiccup in the plan: where would Kenya’s rural poor get the cash for the initial investment in the lantern? The “saving money over time” pitch means nothing to someone living hand-to-mouth, and a major challenge to poverty alleviation is lack of personal savings.

However, from that Opinionator post, it seems like some initiatives have found creative ways of getting around this issue. I especially like SociaLite’s idea of paying for a service (light), instead of a product (a lantern).

In terms of problems of distribution (how do you get your product out to all of these remote villages), one idea is to ask yourself what you can find in even the smallest villages in the world. Easy answer: Coke. India’s government already jumped on this idea, using Coca-Cola’s distribution network to deliver the polio vaccine to remote areas.

Also, the water bottle light-refractor is just plain neat.

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