Let’s do a quick survey: when was the last time you noticed the room was growing dark, turned on a light, and thought, “I’m so lucky that I can continue to do whatever I want after darkness falls?” I can tell you my answer is, never. I don’t think I’ve had that thought, or any similar thoughts, ever in my life. However, for much of the global population, that thought never forms because it’s always just really dark. Aside from those who face a daily fight for access to reliable electricity and the freedom from kerosene, there are also people, temporarily without access, who face the added struggles of cramped conditions and sudden desperation after dark.
The Constant Problem
The dark may be something we take for granted, but for 15% of the global population, access to light is severely limited or completely impossible. In many areas of the world, electricity is incredibly unreliable and in most cases the primary alternative is kerosene, which has myriad of environmental issues. It is also incredibly expensive. For those living below the poverty line, this means light beyond the sun is almost impossible to maintain.
Imagine for a moment that you live well below the poverty line, most likely in a Third World country. Electricity is a luxury you can only imagine and come sundown there’s a decision to make: is what I’m doing important enough to continue doing? Is harming myself and my family, devoting a huge percentage of our income, and potentially starting a deadly fire worth it? Cooking dinner becomes a race against the sun. Students attempting school work must scramble to absorb what they can before they lose the last rays. While living closer to the equator allows for longer days, more time to get the important things done, and less fighting bitter cold, everyone could benefit from a few extra hours. If it meant harming your family’s health, or filling their bellies, which would you choose?
The GravityLight Foundation
The GravityLight is an amazing solution for people whose quest for light is a daily struggle. A simple concept: fill a bag with rocks and dirt, lift it up, and as it falls, let there be light! But the dedicated staff didn’t stop there:
- Focus groups, international beta testers, and huge amounts of follow-up R&D were all employed to improve the design; to make sure it will work anywhere, every time.
- Manufacture of the light is being set up in Kenya, the same market where GravityLight will be launching soon.
- Avoiding potential pitfalls that can come with a Buy One Give One model, GravityLight is working with local partners to provide product and sales training so that locals can use the light to create personal income.
With an official launch expected to happen in Kenya soon, only a few of the lights have been delivered so far – after two massively successful Indiegogo campaigns (both were funded well over 100%), GravityLight fulfilled its promises and delivered lights to both testers and supporters. Personally, I’m keeping a lookout for a product release for the general consumer, simply because I would love to own a light that is operated by the power of gravity alone!
The Temporary Problem
The other issue that requires illumination comes in the wake of disasters (natural or otherwise) that can displace people or restrict access to power temporarily. According to the UNHCR 65.3 million people were forcibly displaced in 2015, worldwide. Just one year earlier, in 2014, UNISDR found that 102 million people had been affected by disasters such as floods, storms, droughts, and extreme temperatures. Since events are happening with increasing frequency and intensity due to climate change, the UNISDR is requesting that we drop the “natural” part of natural disasters and just call them what they are: disasters. This plea implies that numbers of displaced people will continue to grow year after year, and each of them will experience the issues that come from not having access to light after dark.
This issue is not one of extreme poverty or Third World countries. Between 2005 and 2014, the country with the second most occurrences of disasters was the United States. So now you’re no longer facing your shanty and dirt floor and the question of “to kerosene or not to kerosene”. Instead, you’re you. You live in your house or your apartment or your boat or your backyard bungalow and something goes very, very wrong. It’s a tsunami or an earthquake or a storm or a fire or a flood and it takes everything but your life in one epic moment. You are helped by the government or the community or a non-profit, and they feed you and clothe you and give you a temporary place to sleep. Now it is crowded, the power is out, and people are everywhere, and it’s so hot or brazenly cold and you have blankets and some warmth and everything will be ok. Except the dark comes and you have no light. Now every shadow is a threat and the desperation of every human huddled around you is magnified. When morning finally breaks, you thank any or every deity that all you lost was a pair of mittens.
You may remember seeing LuminAID on an exciting Season 6 episode of ABC’s Shark Tank when the burgeoning company instigated a feeding frenzy among the sharks. LuminAID certainly received a well-deserved boost after walking away with a deal from Mark Cuban, but the company had already accomplished many integral milestones in its own right.
After finding inspiration in the tragedy of the Haiti earthquake, and wanting to help people in similar situations, Anna Stork and Andrea Sreshta developed LuminAID in 2010. While both were still students, they managed to design, develop, prototype, and deliver over 20,000 LuminAIDs, all before they hired their first employees in 2014. In a strange twist of fate, the Haitians who first inspired the design were also the first recipients of LuminAIDs when they suffered a devastating hurricane in 2012.
Working the problem from the opposite angle to GravityLight’s approach, LuminAID is available directly to consumers and works the BOGO program to its best advantage. You add light to someone’s life directly by purchasing your light through their Give Light Get Light Program. Plus, LuminAID has all the features any camper/hiker/nature enthusiast/backyard barbecuer could ever want:
- The light is primarily solar powered, but there is an option with USB charging.
- It inflates, so of course, it floats and is waterproof, and you can easily hang it from a pack or a pole.
- It somehow packs small enough to fit in your wallet but can illuminate your whole campsite.
A Brighter Future
There are a lot of ways to do good with your dollar. Though they employ different approaches, both LuminAID and GravityLight are attempting to solve a problem in the most holistic way they can. They may have different points of view, but they are both brightening lives – possibly even yours.