Reflections on the festival of lights
India at night during Diwali by NASA
Today, the festival of lights “Deepawali” ( or Diwali, literally meaning lighting rows of lamps) is being celebrated in India and by the Indian diaspora world over. This special festival is a celebration of the symbolic win of light over darkness, good over bad, knowledge over ignorance. Light is so powerful, both literally and metaphorically, for all it stands for: joy, gratitude, enlightenment and so much more. It is this power of light which makes Deepawali such a beautiful festival.
A time for celebration is also a time for memories and reflection. Memories of a childhood spent lighting up the whole house with candles,oil lamps and little bright electric lights; memories of getting new clothes and gasping looking at firecrackers lighting up the night sky like an exploding web every time you look up, memories of gifts, laughter and delicious food made by my mother. This celebration is also a time to reflect on the present, to not take this light for granted, to be grateful for the light you and I have, and to do something for those for whom light is a distant dream once the sun sets in.
So as the millions and millions of lights lit by people across India’s 1.2 billion strong population go out with the dawn of a new day, I reflect on one quarter of humanity – 1.6 billion people living without the most basic energy access for whom darkness is a reality of life. More than 400 million of these are in the land of origin of festival of lights – India – largest number of unelectrified people in any single country in the world. In terms of regions, Africa has the lowest electrification rate in the world with as many as 547 million people without access to electricity.
Earth at night by NASA
Statistics are powerful but they are not just another hard-hitting number – we must think of the faces behind these numbers in this time of reflection. So let’s stop and think of 8 year old Sunita in a village in India who cannot study at night for the lack of a light bulb; of the 16 year old mother of four Zuura in Uganda who cooks in smoky, greasy makeshift kitchen with “ Tadooba” - an open flame dim smoky kerosene lantern which has burnt her many times; of 14 year old Grace in Tanzania delivering her first child at the midnight hour in her dimly lit smoky mud hut. There is no festival of even a single light for billions around the world as they go on with their daily lives.
Electricity access is fundamental for achieving UN’s millennium development goals (MDG’s), the most broadly supported, comprehensive and specific development goals the world has ever agreed upon. These include goals and targets on income poverty, hunger, maternal and child mortality, disease, inadequate shelter, gender inequality, environmental degradation and the Global Partnership for Development. Target year for accomplishing these goals: 2015. Clean energy access has a direct impact on each of these goals. World Health Organization estimates that the indoor air pollution resulting from use of fuels like firewood, dung and kerosene is responsible for 1.5 million deaths per year, most of them children and women. Kerosene and paraffin lamps spew green house gases and black carbon, which contribute to climate change. Each year billions are spent as subsidy on kerosene from government budgets (a large part of this kerosene is channeled in the black market to adulterate motor fuels due to the wide price differential). At the household level, as much as 40% of family income is spent on inefficient fuels. Even small incremental amount of clean energy access can improve this situation.
Little light of mine, Solar Sister, Inc 2011
The most fundamental of energy access itself is light. As we look for the next big invention to solve the global energy and climate change crisis, the question for Sunita, Zuura, Grace and millions of women like them around the world is: How can we light their lives? Quite literally, really. How can we give them the power to go into the night knowing that there is light at the end of this dark tunnel? The answer lies, firstly, in recognition of energy as a human right. Secondly, a new model of public-private-people partnerships spanning across international, national and local boundaries must be launched. Thirdly, the focus must shift from subsidy driven unsustainable and inefficient schemes to affordable and enterprising solutions that tap into ingenuity of the energy poor, especially the women. Fourthly, solutions must be scalable while having the bandwidth to incorporate local social, economical and cultural factors affecting the energy consumption patterns.
Creating a new kind of festival of lights, Solar Sister, Inc 2011
Solar Sister’s innovative women driven business model aims to achieve all this. We do this not just on Deepawali but every single day of the year by bringing light, hope and opportunity to those living in darkness. Let’s make an everyday festival of atleast a single light possible for communities around the world by helping them take the first steps towards a brighter life. Have you spent some time reflecting on light today?
The Bigger Picture.
“Nearly 600 million Africans face energy poverty, the inability to cook with modern cooking fuels and a lack of minimum lighting for productive activities at sunset.This energy gap impacts a variety of health, education and economic outcomes: Vaccines cannot be properly refrigerated, girls are pulled out of school to collect firewood, and small businesses cannot expand because of energy limitations.” – 2013 Foresight Africa Report
In the 2013 Foresight Africa Report, Todd Moss and Stephanie Majerowicz discuss how a solid U.S. commitment to close the energy poverty gap in Africa can positively impact the global economy. With strategic interventions, the U.S. could address this energy poverty gap while at the same time create markets and increase investments for American businesses. The three-pronged approach includes:
- Leveraging private investment by rationalizing U.S. government tools such as the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC).
- Deploy soft money efficiently: USAID, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Department of Energy, and the Trade and Development Agency are all involved in energy projects in developing countries that provide useful tools at various stages of the project process and can be key to reaching remote areas or making some new technologies feasible to deploy in the short term. Soft money from these entities need to be harnessed in an integrated manner.
- Engage proactively with African environmental powers
Clearly, it is easier said than done, but if the Obama Administration can leverage these strategies, the U.S. could make a significant contribution to not only closing Africa’s energy poverty gap but could also beneficially impact the global economy.
Energy poverty. Take a moment.
Today is the International Day of the Girl.
Issues affecting girls around the world are diverse and complex. Some are cultural, others are political, many are systemic and require significant efforts by an array of stakeholders.
So why is Quinzee talking about the girl child today? We’re about connecting your energy related choices and behaviours to the bigger picture. Today we ask you to take a moment to appreciate that most of us have reliable access to electricity. Be thankful and think about those who don’t have that access - like the girl child who we honour around the world today.
Energy poverty is a major global challenge. Over 1.3 billion people in the world still have no access to electricity. Now imagine that one of those individuals is a girl - because millions are. Is that girl worried about not being able to find her iPhone charger cause she hasn’t finished sending her 300th text or tweet for the day? She’s more likely wishing she had electricity so she didn’t have to cook and heat her home with alternative fuels like wood, charcoal, animal dung or other fuels whose fumes she must breath in every day. Illnesses attributable to poor indoor air quality kill 2 million people prematurely every year.
What value do you place on your access to reliable electricity? Do you waste the things in your life to which you attribute value?
Think. Be changed - even just a little.
Photo Credits: Dale Vande Griend
Featured Member: MPOWERD
When WeWork’s MPOWERD started work last year, their goal was to create a source of light that was durable and affordable enough to brighten the darkest corners of our planet and fundamentally change the lives of people living in ‘energy poverty’.
The Founders of MPOWERD have been connected through long-term friendships that span 15+ years and several countries. Two of them Jacques-Philippe and Jill Van den Brule, have a strong connection to Haiti where Luci was born. Jacques-Philippe is Haitian American and Jill spent 2 years living in Haiti working for the UN after the earthquake. When MPOWERD started working in the WeWork office in 2012, they had 6 passionate co-founders, a prototype of a solar lantern, and a dream of ending energy poverty worldwide.
By combining cutting-edge solar technology with thoughtful design, MPOWERD has created a light source that has changed lives around the world, but which also fits beautifully into your home.
Today, their Luci lantern is being sold around the world and their office is filled with researchers, graduate students, engineers and sales experts. Luci has appeared at major events, from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to the World Economic Forum in Davos, and she has been featured in more than 30 press outlets, including CNN, ABC News, Woman’s Day and the Los Angeles Times.
In early 2013, MPOWERD launched a Buy One Give One model, and now, with each Luci purchase, its NGO partners help send a Luci to someone living in energy poverty in a developing country. MPOWERD’s significant traction in just the last 6 months have put the company on a path that will allow them to continue to scale-up, including the development of new Luci designs and additional products so that they can bring solar justice to the world.
MPOWERD has shown on a small-scale that Luci can literally brighten the world and they are now running an Indiegogo crowd funding campaign in order to scale production up to bring costs down, find and supply more ‘buy-one-give-one’ partners to maximize Luci’s impact on people living below the ‘energy poverty line’, and continue R&D on the other world-changing products in their pipeline.
MPOWERD is hosting a #GetLuci Happy Hour in Soho West (175 Varick Street) this Wednesday at 6pm in the 2nd floor lounge. The lounge will be transformed from WeWork’s newly designed film floor into a fully integrated Luci experience.
You can show your support for MPOWERD in a few different ways:
Pledge to their Indiegogo campaign
Tweet about the campaign and follow @mpowerdinc
Like them on Facebook