New Partnership to Bring Solar Lamps to Off-Grid Africa

Little Sun Solar Lamp
Little Sun's Solar Lamp

Window manufacturer The VELUX Group and the social business Little Sun have announced a partnership with the NGO Plan International to distribute a new solar lamp – the Natural Light solar lamp – in three African countries: Zimbabwe, Zambia and Senegal. The partnership with Plan International will deliver sustainable solar-powered light to people living off-grid in areas without electricity, through a program that involves and empowers local communities.

Last year the VELUX Group and Little Sun joined forces to launch the Natural Light – International Design Competition, which challenged design students around the world to produce a design for the Natural Light solar lamp, in order to bring clean, reliable, affordable light to some of the 1.2 billion people worldwide living without electricity. 14,500 Natural Light lamps will be produced based on the competition’s winning design and will be distributed by Plan in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Senegal in late 2015 and early 2016.

The Natural Light – International Design Competition received 172 design proposals submitted from 65 different countries. The jury was impressed by the creative, innovative and complex ideas it saw from the participating students. Artist Olafur Eliasson, founder of Little Sun and chairperson of the Natural Light jury:

“There was a very strong sense of diversity, very different ideas. It seemed that the appeal of the competition reached a younger group, and this makes me optimistic that solar energy will resonate with the next generation.”

 “The VELUX Group has always been strongly committed to providing the world with new opportunities for accessing daylight and fresh air and giving back to society. We are a company built on knowledge of light, and we use our expertise where we believe it will have the greatest impact. As part of our 75th anniversary, we therefore want to place a greater focus on bringing sustainable, reliable and affordable lighting to off-grid African regions. Our partnership with the Plan International is a perfect way of sharing daylight and fresh air with off-grid communities. Plan is an experienced and established NGO partner and we trust them to distribute the winning solar lamp design to areas that have the greatest need,” says Michael K. Rasmussen, Marketing Director of the VELUX Group.

Distribution of natural light
The distribution model employed is very similar in concept to micro loans, in which small local entrepreneurs who cannot obtain loans under normal circumstances due to a lack of steady income or collateral are offered small loans that can help their businesses get started.  To get their sales started, these entrepreneurs will initially receive a stock of Natural Light lamps for free. Once they have sold their stock, the result is a profit for themselves and also the capital to purchase additional lamps to sell, establishing their own self-sustaining small businesses.

“We are very happy that the VELUX Group has decided to support Plan’s work, which helps empower the youths of Senegal, Zimbabwe and Zambia. Engaging youth groups as retailers means income-generating opportunities and access to affordable clean light for their communities”, says Gwen Wisti, Managing Director of Plan International Denmark. Wisti continues:

“With the generous contribution from the VELUX Group, Plan can reach even more youths, giving them a chance to obtain new skills and improve their livelihoods. The solar-powered lamps will benefit entire communities where electricity is a scarce resource. In countries that have an unemployment rate of more than 60 percent, this program makes a big difference in the lives of the people involved, who are given a chance to support themselves. This is in line with the overall mission of Little Sun – to make sure that clean, affordable, reliable light is available to everyone in a sustainable way.”

“We are very excited to announce our distribution partnership with Plan for the Natural Light – International Design Competition’s winning solar lamp. We believe that, together with local entrepreneurs, we can make a big impact delivering lamps in a sustainable way that benefits off-grid communities and generates local profits”, says Frederik Ottesen, founder of Little Sun.

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This post was prepared by Solar Thermal Magazine staff.

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