Q. Why donate to an organization that is selling goods and services to some of the poorest people
in the world and who is not just giving them the lights?
A. Rather than telling Liberians what they need, LEN is asking them as consumers what they need, and giving them choices. While most of LEN’s revenue will be generated from the sale of solar lanterns/chargers on a break-even basis, startup costs will need to be incurred before the project can reach scale and become sustainable. These startup costs, and funds to accelerate the expansion of inexpensive, dependable solar energy across Liberia, will be generated from individual donors, foundations and grants. This results in tremendous leveraging of donations, which would not occur if LEN simply gave lights away. For those groups in Liberia, such as school children, who can not afford to purchase a light, LEN has a free and reduced price program to provide them with solar lights.
A. Currently no one in Liberia has access to any source of reliable electric power. Following 14 years of civil war, Liberia is one of the poorest nations on the globe, ranked 162nd out of 169 on the UN GNI list. According to Liberia’s National Energy Policy 2% of rural and 10% of urban residents have access to any electricity, and the electricity that is available is expensive and unreliable. All aspects of Liberians’ lives — education, health, welfare of women and children, economic development, and the environment are adversely impacted.
A. Lack of electrical power is adversely impacting every aspect of Liberian’s lives. Hospitals, health clinics and nurse-midwives have no light or poor light, and are using candles and kerosene lanterns to perform their life saving duties after the sun sets. Education, especially for women and young men who were child soldiers, who must work during the day, is not possible without light for them to study at night. Small shops and businesses must cease operation when the sun sets depriving them of the opportunity to generate additional income. Without light, even the simple pleasures of being able to socialize in the evening after the work day is done are virtually impossible
A. Len provides Liberians with solar lights working through the country’s existing civil organizations to promote peace and strengthen nation building. LEN builds on what worked in Liberia, using a business at the base of the economic pyramid model, to provide basic light and power using small scale solar lanterns and lights. Educational, civic, medical and religious organizations which are providing basic services to Liberians are used to build out the supply chain and get the technology into the hands of those who need it, while providing income to those groups to support their missions.
A. This is bottom-up development, in which Liberians will be building out the power grid one light at a time. It is important to understand LEN does not seek to create new technology, but is focused on closing the gap between the problem (lack of electricity) and solution (affordable, sustainable and reliable solar energy). LEN has selected several models of solar lanterns/chargers, based on market studies and feedback from Liberian consumer focus groups, which are being imported and made available for the network partners to sell. Training, business management support and financing through local Liberian banks is being arranged to support the partners.
Q. What is different about how LEN is approaching the problem of basic light, power
and development in Liberia?
A. LEN, while incorporated as a non-profit, uses a for-profit model for doing business, seeking to address the immediate need for basic energy and to empower Liberia to use their own human and capital resources to meet that need. It is premised on the belief that those who live at the base of the world’s economic pyramid, if given the opportunity will make sound and rational decisions acting in their own self-interest to improve their individual circumstances and that, collectively, their individual decisions will build the foundation for a stable and secure nation. The current lack of energy infrastructure provides an opportunity to bypass traditional means of providing energy by utilizing alternative technologies to build a 21st century energy system. This leapfrogging of technology has already occurred in Liberian in the telecommunications industry. By using a for-profit business model the social venture is projected to rapidly reach scale and achieve sustainability within two years.
A. LEN projects, using a moderate growth model, that during the first five years of operation it will have distributed over 100,000 solar lanterns/chargers, resulting in illuminating and charging cell phones for approximately 500,000 Liberians, or 15% of the population, based on the Liberian National Census finding of an average of 5.1 Liberians in each household. This growth rate is supported by the World Bank’s prediction of a 40-50% annual growth of solar lights in Africa in the foreseeable future.
A. Because LEN does not need to product a profit, but merely cover its overhead, it can provide goods which more nearly reflect the true cost of the goods. It plans to price goods at a point which allows it to be sustainable and scalable, but does not need to return profits to any owners or shareholders. The only profit generated will be to the Liberian partners to support their efforts on behalf of Liberians, and to cover their costs of distributing the goods.