Gravity Lights

Another outrageously successful crowd funding project in the sustainable energy space, The Gravity Light, has recently raised close to 400k for further development. It makes me smile when I see this kind of uptake – they had an initial target of 55k – as it points to a recognition of a great idea well executed and a sense of the depth of the need that is being addressed.’

The gravity light is another LED light designed to replace kerosene lamps in the developing world. As the name suggests it it powered by gravity. A bag filled with rocks or other heavy material pulls through the light mechanism powering the light for around 30 minutes. There are no batteries to  charge or be replaced and resetting the light will take around 3 seconds. It is simple, effective and elegant.

We hope to be offering these right here once the developers have completed their final prototyping and production runs.


Illumination Solar Partnership

As we travel further down this road we discover numerous new products being designed to specifically  attend to energy poverty. We’ve recently set up a partnership with Illumination Solar - a Melbourne based company that is producing the Mandarin light. ‘The Bic pen of solar lights”, as they describe it  - it is simple, durable and designed to provide sustainable effective light for the lowest price possible in the developing world. It is a great product and highly effective – outshining a number of other products – some much more expensive.

Illumination have had great success so far including providing 80,000 lights to refugee camps along the Pakistani/Afgani border. We’re very happy to be their primary distributor in Australia – the Mandarins will be available here very soon and represent a lower priced, highly effective product which ( as all the Green Light Products do ) provides funds to developing world poverty alleviation projects.

As part of their development Illumination Solar have conducted extensive studies in developing regions on the impact of solar lighting distribution. Across Tanzania, The Phillipines and Indonesia and around 2000 households the studies provide compelling results for replacing kerosene use. Yes, that is why we’re all here – seeing the numbers from a rock face study let’s us all know the impact that can be made.

Here are the numbers broken down quickly.

  • Use of solar lighting resulted in an average of 70% reduction in kerosene use
  • The average financial saving was $87 per year per light – in areas where the  average wage is between $1-2 a day.
  • Each solar  light in use  represents a .156 tonne reduction in carbon dioxide each year.
  • Reduction of accident, housefire, respiratory problems and illness were all highly significant –  - down, on average, around 60%
  • An increase in total study time of 78% with increased benefits of shared study time ( as opposed to taking turns around the ineffective light of a kerosene lamp)

So – we’ll keep you posted as soon as these are available. Great for your shed, great for your tent, great for making the world a better place and helping those who need it most.


Access Energy

The Green Light Project is driven by both sustainability and the alleviation of energy poverty. As the project progresses we discover new solutions in this field and new ways of approaching the issues. This is not just about solar – it’s about all forms of sustainable energy provision and ensuring the distribution of those solutions is able to provide multi-layered benefits – employment, capability building, economic stimulus.

With all this in mind we wanted to outline Access Energy and the project they are implementing in Kenya –  building wind turbines primarily from locally sourced materials. The ‘Night Heron’ is able to produce sustainable power more cheaply than solar as it is produced locally can also be fixed locally. Access are effectively developing a clean energy economy in Kenya providing job and entrepreneurial opportunity.

This is right in the pocket of what we know works. Grassroots ground up development attending to a major developing world issue and in doing so developing the local economy around the solution. Just brilliant.

They have recently successly run a crowd funding campaign on indie-gogo which outlines the project.

There are few things more elegant than great design satisfying a real need whilst benefitting the community in numerous ways beyond that need. We found this story inspiring and  a great model for energy poverty solutions throughout the developing world.

Access Energy is under the umbrella of  Access Collective which also includes Access Health. They’re focused on collaborative design with the end user – resulting in solutions that empower lives and work within the resources available.

We’ll be following their story with great interest.


Partnership with Carbon Community

We’re very happy to announce that we have recently formed a partnership with The Carbon Community Foundation. CCF have been working in a similar space alleviating energy poverty for a number of years as a not-for-profit with DGR ( deductible gift recipient) status. Working with CCF, The Green Light Project will now send funds to our partner organisations through them allowing tax deductability and further governance. Through this partnership over $2000.00 has recently been sent to Elephant Energy to facilitate the set up of new small solar based businesses in Namibia. Carbon Community run a rolling fund provided to in country partners focused on the alleviation of energy poverty through the support of solar entrepreneurs. In this way the advantages of solar light distribution in maximised by also creating employment, business opportunity and economic stimulus in a a community.


Aid Failure

This TED talk by David Damburger of Engineers without Borders is important for a number of reasons. In it he outlines one of the major reasons why so many project in the developing world ultimately come to nothing within 18-24 months. Put simply sending resources or establishing solutions in any region will not be sustainable without an investment in the local community which are to benefit from those resources. Without the knowledge to maintain  and service new systems they will quite simply break down.

This talk was particularly resonant as we know through working with Bicycle Empowerment Network Namibia how many projects like this they have seen. The model that they have established – implementing the shipping containers as bike work shops with locals trained in mechanical and small business skills was  formed after observing numerous project that lacked this vision for sustainability. Sending bikes to Sub-saharan Africa would not come to much in a short space of time without the skills and knowledge to repair and maintain them being present. By establishing bike workshops ( Bicycles Empowerment Centres – BECs) they not only provide for the donated bicycles to continue to run but also provide employment, skills training and economic opportunity and stimulus in the regions in which they are established. This empowerment of the community to engage in and take control of the project is central to the BEC model. Yes, the bikes change lives providing access to healthcare, education, fresh water and food  - beyond this the larger impact is the workshops that BEN monitors and administers up to and beyond the point that they have become self sustaining small businesses. Small businesses of the kind which are lately seen as one of the best ways for Africa to move beyond aid dependance.

With this in mind stage two of The Green Light Project will be working toward establishing a similar model for solar technology. We are currently working developing partnerships both here and in the developing world that can help facilitate this goal. There is a huge need for sustainable power in the developing world – if this can be attended through the establishment of small micro-financed businesses selling and maintaining this technology then the impact of the project is multi-layered, on-going and sustainable in a much broader sense.

The need to recognise, admit and move on from failure  has to be central to any organisation. David outlines this with some emotion in the talk recognising the failure of one of his own projects – a little harsher in that it reflected the same lack of attention to sustainability that he outlines as causing so many issues in the supply of fresh water in Malawi. It seems slowly that an ability to admit failure and learn from it is moving from the motivational speaker stages into organisation’s PR. FailCon has now been running for 3 years. This is a conference where, instead of chest beating entrepreneurs talking only of their successes, the focus is on those things that didn’t work, what we can all learn from those mistakes and how it is in the application of those lessons that systems are made stronger, more efficient, more sustainable.

With Engineers Without Boarders now publishing an annual Failure Report we may now soon see a similar forum for NGOs to learn from the mistakes that have been made.


Melbourne Magazine Top 100

It was flattering to be included in The Age – Melbourne Magazines top 100 for 2011 last week. While I was included due to my work with Bicycles For Humanity, The Green Light Project did get a mention as well.

While a brief spark of notoriety is amusing ( and really only noticed by those closest to you), the best part of being included in such great company was the chance to meet and talk to many of the other ‘inductees’ at the launch. Over the next few posts here I want to highlight a few of these inspiring people and their work – not always related to this project – but usually with some thread of family resemblance, shared focus or outlook.

These include film makers, entrepreneurs ( social and otherwise), designers and social media power houses. All driven, passionate and motivated by projects that have found great success. It is important to note that none of those I talked to  courted such media attention – they were simply doing what they were passionate about with the focus absolutely on the work and the result, not the accolades or attention that might come from that.

The first of these is Genevieve Bailey and Hendrik Nordstrom the director/producer team of  ’I Am Eleven’. ‘I Am Eleven’ is a documentary film in which eleven year olds all over the world are interviewed about their lives and perception of world events. It took 6 years and travel through 15 countries to make – finally debuting at the Melbourne International Film Festival and picking up  the IF award for best doco.  I haven’t yet seen the film as Hendrik and Genevieve are exploring cinematic distribution first ( and I missed it at the festival) but the trailer is  wonderful  and clearly the film is beautifully made, enlightening, intimate and emotionally involving.

It may well be that  children across the world are able to cast a clear light on the global issues that currently confront us. Certainly  their take on the world will cause us to reconsider, re-calibrate and remember how the world looked to us when we were eleven. I am looking forward to  seeing the film as soon as it is possible and wish Genevieve and Hendrik good luck for the rest of the project. I suggest you go watch the trailer and keep an eye out for it screening near you.



Simple Ideas Change Lives

This is a great example of how a simple elegant idea can make a huge difference. This video did go viral earlier this year but more importantly the idea went viral across the developing world. Stories soon came in about how this same issue was being solved from the Phillipines to Africa after the video was posted online.

Importantly beyond just the beautiful piece of lateral thinking that started all this, the idea has now produced employment and economic stimulus in some of the poorest parts of the world.

With all of the development work that we’ve been involved with this is always apparent – grassroots, ground up solutions to problems that empower the people and puts control in their hands are the best way to have a positive impact. The fact that this idea uses pre-existing resources and is easily implemented is central to why the idea was able to spread and be taken up worldwide with no need for funding or sourcing of materials.

Simple, elegant – an example to be inspired by.


Solving Energy Poverty

We are now just over a week into this project and I’m very happy to say the response has been very strong. As well as taking enough pre-orders to move to the next stage of the project we have attracted more partner organisations and been contacted by new potential donor organisations.

As we move ahead it is worth restating the issues that we’re seeking to address.

When resources are scarce the tipping points between simple survival and the ability to thrive can be subtle. A solution to one simple issue can effectively solve many. This is what we mean by ‘breaking the cycle of poverty’. By providing the ability to work or study during the evening affordable, sustainable lighting can change the life of a whole community. However in providing safe, sustainable light numerous other issues are also solved.

Across the developing world kerosene and paraffin are used as fuels for lighting. These fuels create fumes that cause chronic respiratory and eye disease. Those using these lighting sources, the poor and often women and children, consume the equivlant of two packets of cigarettes a day.

This is as much a health issue as it is an economic one with the  World Health Organisation reporting that there are 1.6 million deaths per year in the developing world due to indoor air pollution created by ‘traditional’ fuels. This is in fact the third biggest killer in the developing world with many of those at risk being under five and so far more susceptible to respiratory disease.

Traditional lighting sources also represent a clear hazard. More children die every year from fire related injuries than from both malaria and tuberculosis.

These fuels also represent a major household expense that can be effectively removed with the provision of solar lamps. Globally households spend 38 billion USD on kerosene every year – with each kerosene lamp emitting 100 kg of CO2 every year.

All these issues can be solved – providing more income, more useful time, safer environments, reducing infant mortality and carbon emissions with technology that is now accessible and affordable. Wiliam Gibson said way back last century  ” The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed” – here we have a chance to even that out a little by providing simple, sustainable light to those who need it most.

It really can be just that easy.

Thanks again for your support.


The Age Online

We were recently covered in The Age online.

Thanks to Larissa Ham for a great article.

The Project is off to a great start and we’re looking to forward to hitting 700 lights to be supplied to BEN Namibia very soon.

Thank you to everyone for your support so far.