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The Global BrightLight Foundation (GBL) has brought light and energy—measured in economic potential, safety at night, and of course in watts—to underserved communities around the globe. From Argentina, Bolivia and Rwanda to Haiti, Nepal and beyond, GBL has provided individuals, and families living in rural communities, with over 76,000 solar lanterns to date. These off-grid solar lamps illuminate the night and can charge electronic devices as well.
Since Global BrightLight Foundation got started in 2011, working with a variety of international and country-specific nonprofit organizations, social enterprises, universities and corporate sponsors to launch various off-grid solar projects, the company has made significant gains. “GBL has distributed more solar lanterns in more countries than any other US-based, not for profit organization,” says Ben Bunker, CEO of Global BrightLight Foundation.
Part of the organization’s success comes from experience and lessons learned. While GBL has explored donation-based models, providing people with lanterns (with 5-year lifespans) at no cost, social enterprise models (individuals contributing towards the cost of ownership) have proven to be “the most efficient, sustainable, and scalable approach to eradicating light and energy poverty,” Ben explains.
The GBL has brought light and energy—measured in economic potential, safety at night, and of course in watts—to underserved communities around the globe.
Even though the social enterprise model has proven more sustainable, in extreme situations, like those found in some refugee camps or during disaster relief operations, off-grid solar lamps are handed out for free. In 2015 in Nepal, for example, right after a devastating earthquake rocked the country, GBL—with an inventory of solar lamps already in Nepal—was quickly able to allocate lamps to people in need at no cost to end users, especially in the hard-hit Nuwakot District. This charitable act brought the gift of light to many, as well as the ability to charge mobile devices to contact relatives and share news and support.
Global BrightLight Foundation has decided to focus on Latin America. By zeroing in on one particular region, GBL can scale and maximize the impact of solar lamp distribution, thus helping push forward the United Nations Sustainable Energy For All initiative of providing universal access to electricity by 2030. (More than a billion people worldwide currently have no access to energy.)
“GBL has decided to expand our work in Latin America to provide clean, affordable solar power to the estimated 30 million people in the region who currently lack access to electricity, using a social business model,” Ben says. With headquarters in Guatemala and Peru (markets with the greatest number of people living without electricity), and partnerships with local nonprofits like Amigos de la Aldea (ADLA) in Guatemala, and Global BrightLight Peru, GBL is striving to reach as many people as it can.
“Our experience shows that people who pay the partial or full cost of the system they receive take better care of it,” Ben points out, which means they maximize its lifespan, and tend to use it more often. In turn, a family that owns its solar lamp can “unlock” money previously spent on candles and charging mobile devices. The savings are then invested in other life-improving expenses, like school fees, farming supplies, health services and emergency funds. ■