Could the same lamp that’s designed to bring light to the billions worldwide who lack quality electricity become a lighting option for wedding planners (and others) in the U.S.? That’s the ambition of design-firm and tech incubator MPOWERD, whose new solar lamp Luci features a buy-one-give-one model to let sales in the West fuel distribution around the developing world.
The design—"compact, durable, user-friendly, and, critically, affordable"—makes Luci a natural fit for two markets: one is the 1.6 billion people who experience energy poverty, combined with the 1.5 billion others who are either off-the-grid or can’t afford the grid, says Luci’s director of communications and social impact Jill Van den Brule. The other is people in industrialized nations who find themselves temporarily without perfect access to electricity: whether they’re camping, throwing an outdoor party, or dealing with a blackout. After charging for four or five hours in the sun, the lamp can provide a full eight to 12 hours of light, functioning as a ceiling light, lantern, desk lamp, or distress signal.
On a phone call last week, Van den Brule pointed out Luci’s myriad benefits for people who lack electricity, which include allowing students to study at night, preventing deaths and pulmonary diseases caused by kerosene lamps (which disproportionately affect women), empowering people to walk more freely at night through unlit and unsafe areas, and enabling families to save money on power. Fuel can be a significant expense for people in rural areas—as much as $8 to $30 per month—who often are living on just a few dollars per day. Van den Brule says that when multiplied across all the families in a community, the savings of switching to renewables like Luci could reach millions of dollars in just a number of years.
MPOWRD, currently in the process of becoming a certified B Corp, is looking into models where "government, NGOs, and private sector companies can buy [the lamps] wholesale and set up distribution at a really reasonably price in country," according to Van den Brule. The company also recently announced a partnership with the nonprofit A New Course, which will distribute lamps to women in Tanzania and Kenya as the "give-one" component of Luci’s BOGO strategy.
The "buy one" part comes at a cost of $25 on their website or $50 on their Indiegogo campaign. (The extra costs through the crowdfunding platform go to fund "research and development for additional products, improvements to Luci, and lowering distribution costs," according to Van den Brule.) The Indiegogo campaign is also intended to build a community of people who feel invested in the cause of ending energy poverty, a goal that MPOWRD wants to jump-start. "When people see the light—no pun intended—they get very excited," Van den Brule says.