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“If we stop thinking of the poor as victims or as a burden and start recognizing them as resilient and creative entrepreneurs and value conscious consumers, a whole new world of opportunity will open up.” -C.K. Prahalad, The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid
I once asked a mother what her little daughter does at night. She replied, “Nothing. She can’t watch TV because the village generator is spoilt. Sometimes, she does her homework, but not for too long, because the kerosene lamp smells and hurt her eyes. And kerosene is expensive.” When night falls, entire villages plunge into darkness and virtually every activity stops. This is a global problem: 2 out of 5 Indonesians, and 1 out 4 people in the planet, do not have access to light. How do we interrupt their darkness?
The solution is not to give away the technology but to structure the process such that it produces long term benefits for the community long after we leave. The principle underlying this approach is the belief in the power of the rural poor to effect changes themselves, if they are given the tools, guidance and education to do so.As such, our approach is to catalyze the potential of women, by training them as solar lamp entrepreneurs. This has several advantages. First, the women we select would have used the solar lamps themselves. They are therefore powerful advocates of the product. Second, they earn a good income through the sales of the lamps. This system therefore transforms their free time into something more economically productive, without compromising on their family responsibilities. Third, by selling higher value products, it compels the women to raise their skill set and service standards. Lastly, it creates a powerful distribution channel by women for women. This strengthens inter-island trade networks. Long after we leave, the networks can be tapped to sell other products.
We focus on women to achieve a multiplier effect. According to USAID, aid programs that focus on women tend to benefit the family. The extra income generated by women will be invested back into the household. This is particularly true in the Riau Islands. Men work and women hold and manage the household finances and make key purchasing decisions. A solar lamp is a key household expenditure.Thus, a focus on women also mean we are targeting the relevant market segment.