How do you bring lighting to the 98.6% of rural Rwandan households that have no access to electricity?  The answer is entrepreneurship, micro finance,  pedal powered generators, portable pod lights, and an innovative company called Nuru (Swahili for light).

With an award from the World Bank’s Lighting Africa competition, Nuru spent the past year working directly with rural Rwandans, co-creating the first commercially viable pedal generator to bring renewable lighting to areas currently dependent on kerosene lamps.  The concept is an innovative, efficient, healthy, and environmentally friendly way to bring market based solutions to the one third of the global population living in poverty – a staggering 2 billion people.

Nuru power cycle charges 4 lights after 20 minutes of peddling.

Nuru power cycle charges 4 lights after 20 minutes of pedaling.

Kerosene lamps are the primary source of light when night falls in the underdeveloped regions of the world.  Light generated from kerosene is expensive, unhealthy, environmentally unfriendly, and dangerous.  The World Bank estimates that “women and children breathing kerosene fumes inhale the equivalent smoke from two packs of cigarettes per day.”  Scared hands and faces from burn accidents are testament to the dangers.  With Nuru’s pedal power lighting system, the dangers of kerosene are eliminated and the cost per unit of light is 20 time less.

Wanting to get it right, Nuru worked directly with the experts on poverty, the poor themselves. Over the last year they gave their pedal powered technology to the people who will be using it, solicited feedback, made design changes, and did over again for four rounds of testing and improvement. The finished units are now being brought to market.

A control panel on the front of the Nuru power cycle indicates when charging is complete.

A control panel on the front of the Nuru power cycle indicates when charging is complete.

The business model is multifaceted.  With help from microfinance, an economically disenfranchised villager is given a loan to buy 200 light pods (Portable On Demand light) and one power cycle (pedal generator).  He or she is now an entrepreneur.  The pods are sold individually to people of their village and nearby areas. Cost benefit savings over kerosene make for easy customers. Each sale creates a satisfied consumer and a new client for the entrepreneur. One charge from 20 minutes of pedaling last 30-40 hours depending on whether the light is used on the low or high setting (one or two led’s).  When the power is depleted, owners pay a small fee for recharging.

Formerly unemployed, Innocent is now an entrepreneur bringing sustainable light to his fellow villagers in Rwanda.

Formerly unemployed, Innocent is now an entrepreneur bringing sustainable light to his fellow villagers in Rwanda.

Copyright 2009 Adam Bacher.  Absolutely no usage without prior authorization.

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