D.light’s d.sirable business success

But what really has us excited is the excitement at the consumer level.  If you have a chance, visit D.light’s website to see hear some of the remarkable stories of their customers and how light has impacted their lives. And also take a look at the letter that D.light just received from a resident in Orissa living in D.light’s first 100% solar village. We’ve got thousands and thousands of villages to go, but a very exciting start.

From a Nextbillion.net article on this disruptive company aiming to provide solar energy to India’s rural poor. This article emphasizes what is one of the most important aspects of a successful business, partcularly startups, which is knowing your customer and focusing on developing your entire business model to what they need and want.

A Mighty Way to Light Up Rural India

MightyLight, a product created by Cosmos Ignite Innovations, is reaching 15,000 children, thanks to an effort by eBay.  Since children are unable to study at night without a light source, the MightyLight is a way to improve education, among other issues.  eBay employee Anna Sidana and her nonprofit One Million Lights were key drivers in this gift.  MightyLight, according to an IndiaWest article, has many benefits.  The product is:

a solar-powered LED light that is eco-friendly, robust and built specifically for rugged conditions. It can withstand falls on hard surfaces and water or dust without being damaged. The Mighty Light produces ~500 lumens of clean white light versus ~10 lumens of light from a kerosene lamp. Other benefits of the solar light extend to health and the environment with no harmful carbon emissions.

Cosmos Ignite Innovations itself is an interesting venture, as it is a partnership between Cosmos Energy in India and Ignite Innovations in the US.  With millions of people in rural India still using kerosene, the potential for scaling up the environmentally safe and affordable light is substantial.

Solar-Powered Wireless Router Offers Opportunities in Technology

We post a lot of contest opportunities on TC-I, but the really interesting part is when the winners are announced and new ideas are revealed. Last November, ASSET (Achieving Sustainable Social Equality through Technology) India Foundation set up a Challenge by partnering with the Rockefeller Foundation. ASSET India Foundation focuses on the children of sex workers and providing them with technology training so that they can opt out of that industry and gain better career opportunities. The contest was run through InnoCentive, a global innovation marketplace. According to marketwire, the premise of the Challenge

sought the design of a solar-powered wireless router composed of low-cost, readily available hardware and software components. The router is to become part of a reliable Internet communications network connecting metropolises and remote towns in developing countries.

A software engineer from Texas named Zacary Brown came up with a viable solution. The idea will be made real by University of Arizona students this year.

The solution runs on a Linux-based system and is powered totally by a battery that is charged through solar panels. It was built with hardware that is able to withstand daily outdoor use and can be controlled remotely, allowing network operators to activate the switches with pre-paid cell phones.

The whole point of this solution is to allow adolescents outside of major cities to gain access to technology work and hone marketable job skills. To learn more about ASSET India Foundation, InnoCentive, and this solution, read the press release by marketwire.

Small Steps, Big Possibilities

In the past week, I’ve come across several stories that highlight isolated successes or intriguing ideas that are being implemented on a small scale. Here’s a quick recap:

  • In the Chandni Chowk area of old Delhi, iGovernment reports the introduction of greener rickshaws, run by solar batteries. Obviously such vehicles can only go short distances and for short periods of time, but in an congested area like Chandni Chowk, greener autos may make a large impact on the surrounding environment:

It would be run by a solar battery, which would suffice for a journey of 70 km. The battery would take five hours to be charged with the help of solar panels in the charging unit which will be functional above the Delhi metro stations, an official of the city government said.

  • A waste management system (an issue we’ve covered here and here) in Maharastra shows a PPP at work – a privatized system in a city named Latur requires residents to pay Rs 20 per month for garbage pick up. This case shows that the involvement of both an NGO and a private system can result in efficiency:

Of the 183 who have been employed, around 75 per cent are women. Rather than a monthly salary, the women are paid per tonne of garbage collected. As an added incentive, they can sell the recyclable material of the garbage in the market.

But is the system fair (especially to the rag pickers)? The article paints a rosy picture, and it would be interesting get a sense of what the reality is on the ground.

  • Community radio has been making waves in Jharkhand with a program called “Chalo Ho Gaon Mein,” which is narrated in the local language and touches on a number of issues. A project manager at the NGO AID (Alternative for India Development) explains in this article by The Hoot:

We realized that all these problems were stemmed from the fact that the people of the region were unable to express themselves and speak freely about the problems that they were facing. So, setting up a radio programme seemed like a good way to give a voice to the voiceless. A programme for the villagers and by the villagers that would not only address their issues and make them more aware, but would also reach out to other people who could make a difference to their lives.

As with many solutions to social issues, these approaches are taking place as pilots or for specific regions and populations – but all are encouraging and may shed light for the bigger picture.

TC-I Tidbits

Your daily dose of information:

Energy and Environment: PM Manmohan Singh unveiled the country’s new Climate Action Plan, which will focus a large portion of its efforts on solar power. The plan also emphasized that these efforts are domestic in nature and that India is still firm on its stance against current international agreements.

Health: A new diagnostic tool will help identify drug resistant tuberculosis (TB) in only two days time; previous method took over two months.

Employment and Rural Jobs: A recent census suggests that rural jobs, both agrarian and non-, are growing at a faster pace than their counterparts in the urban centers, potentially decreasing urban migration across the country.

TC-I Tidbits

Your daily dose of headlines:

  • Health: Over 53% children in India under five years – that is, 67 million – live without basic healthcare facilities. This means that India alone accounts for about one-third of all children in the world aged below five who don’t have basic healthcare. [Source: Times of India]
  • Education: There is a shortage of teachers at central universities, with 20 per cent of teaching posts being vacant since October. The government will raise the age for pension schemes, and a committee will review the pay scale to address the issue.
  • Energy: With low-interest loans for solar power from Canara Bank and Syndicate Bank, more than 100,000 people in rural Karnataka benefit from affordable and reliable electricity. The program was subsidized by the United Nations Environment Programme.

Women Barefoot Solar Engineers

We highlighted Barefoot College in a previous post, and they are in the news again as four illiterate women from Hyderabad are now fulfilling the role of solar power engineers. An Asia Sentinel article features the unlikely group that received training from Barefoot College’s Rural Technology Park and went on to complete tasks such as solar powering 124 village households, launching the first Women Barefoot Solar Engineers Association, and installing a solar power plant in the technology park. From the article:

Indeed in a country where 23 percent of 586,000 villages and 56 percent of 138 million households do not have electricity, Chennamma and her colleagues are literally bringing hope to hundreds. Analysts say that electrification in some remote areas, especially in distant and hilly terrain, is usually not technically or economically viable. Moreover, transmission and distribution costs of electricity in the country are prohibitive, making it unaffordable for about a quarter of India’s 1.3 billion people, many of who subsist on 20 cents a day, to afford electricity.

According to Dr. Vinayakam (the project director), the experiment has successfully demonstrated the feasibility of training the poor to provide a vital development system. “It also underscores the fact,” he said, “that these people can be successfully entrusted with the management, control and ownership of such a sophisticated technology.”

More on Barefoot College’s solar power projects can be found here.