D.Light: Solar lamps for students

The Dar es Salaam based social venture company D.Light ltd. had a plan to distribute ten thousand solar re-chargeable lamps to secondary schools students and teachers in Tanzania, so as to provide them with an affordable, clean and healthy source of light. Twaweza found the technological intervention compelling; several studies have shown that access to clean, reliable light can improve learning and reduce illness, and the solar lamps would also help reduce carbon emissions and make light more affordable in the medium to long term. But with over a million students, ten thousand lamps would only help a few, and so Twaweza challenged d.light to think big and aim for a hundred thousand students, with a little extra help.

Thus d.light and Twaweza entered into an innovative partnership to expand the marketing and availability of subsidized low-cost, high quality lights to secondary school students and teachers. The partnership is designed to have multiple benefits. First, it provides solar lights at an affordable price in a country where 85 percent of the population does not have access to electricity. Second, it intends to enhance learning by providing reliable light at night for learners and teachers. Third, it replaces rudimentary kerosene lanterns that are more costly to run, increase carbon emissions and have been shown to cause serious respiratory illnesses. Fourth, information materials will be included in the packaging of the lights and affixed on to the light fixtures. Fifth, in the course of distribution of lights, telephone numbers will be collected of teachers who get the lights, to enable easy follow-up monitoring on the lights and other relevant aspects.

The business model crafted here is also an interesting experiment. Other than providing the popular materials free of charge (whose unit cost for printing is less than USD 0.1), d.light will be given a challenge amount of USD 1.25 per additional light successfully sold to secondary schools, for up to 100,000 lights. This challenge provides d.light with a nudge and an incentive to achieve far greater scale. Yet payment is based on performance: if only 20% of the target is reached, only 20% of the maximum amount will be paid. It will be interesting to follow whether this challenge model of investing works, and how it could be applied in other contexts.

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