To the top of Africa
A few years ago, Australian James ‘Jim’ Fraser had his eyes set on climbing Kilimanjaro the highest peak of Africa, and one of the fabled ’7 summits’ with his daughter Nicky. He contacted Harry Kikstra the owner of the well-known outfitter 7summits.com to set the trip up.
Before heading out to Africa he decided to join the 7summits expedition to the highest point in Europe, (Mt Elbrus in the Russian Caucasus mountains) as well.
This expedition was guided by Harry personally; the first time Jim and Harry met was in the fabled Izmailovo Hotel in Moscow and they had a great time together in Russia.
After the successful expedition to Elbrus and later Kilimanjaro (where Nicky and Jim reached the summit), they met again in Amsterdam. Jim & Nicky had both been very impressed by the culture and attitudes of the Tanzanian crew and people. They work hard, solve problems with a smile and seem to enjoy life more than their far richer counterparts in the western world.
How to help out?
They decided to do something to show their appreciation and started to work out some plans.
Harry visited the Frasers in Australia and together they set up a detailed plan to re-forest the disappearing woods around Kilimanjaro.
They wanted to regrow the forests while supplying additional firewood for the nearby villagers and cleaning the mountain and national park. This could be paid for using CO2 offset schemes, where industrialized nations pay for their pollution.
They spent several weeks together in Tanzania in 2008 to sort out the practical issues, but ran into all kinds of mostly political and some practical boundaries.
Harry was about to start his 3 years bicycle expedition across the Americas (to create awareness about the changing environment) but from the road kept in contact with Jim, who continued to develop new ideas.
Seeing the light
Jim had noticed during his visits that many Tanzanian were not connected to the Electric grid and spent up to a quarter of their already low income to buy kerosene for lighting purposes. However, sunlight is abundant and free in Tanzania and a connection was made.
Nicky describes this moment:
When my Dad -like most males- sees a problem he wants to try to fix it, where I as a female like to talk about it. Here’s our story.
The idea of our solar light was first developed in Tanzania. Talking to the guy who maintained the swimming pool at the hotel he found that nearly 25% of his income was spent on kerosene for lighting his house. He earned almost $100 per month and spent over $22 on kerosene. Talking to other people Jim found that nearly all Tanzanians and very likely most all average Africans are in the same position.
(Using our trials in Africa we confirmed that the average family is spending $2-4 per week on kerosene).
The solution was to come up with a solar light that was hardy and robust to endure the climate, at a price that would be affordable to the average person. At the same time reducing the carbon footprint left by the kerosene, would produce a tool to keep the cost of distributing such a product to all parts of the world. 12months on the light was born.
Jim invested his time and money and personally designed the first affordable portable all-in-one solar light, which could be sold for less than a quarter of what current comparable lights sold for.
He produced a thousand lights and had them distributed through a NGO in Tanzania. After initial hesitation, the response was overwhelming.
1000 lights were sent over to the NGO Floresta to trial, to see how the light performed and the effect it would have on the people, how they benefited. The results were amazing! The light preformed well and after 4 weeks, the light was already paid back in full from kerosene purchase savings. These people could now choose how they now got to spend the $100 they would save per year on additional items like food, clothes, medicine etc, instead of burning it through kerosene.
The light solved more than just financial problems and created a Win-Win-Win situation: the Tanzanians, the Earth and the newly created company were all winners, the only loser was the kerosene industry, while the users were extremely happy.
The time spent travelling to collect the kerosene and return home again should not be underestimated as some people walk as far as 10km for kerosene, once or twice per week. Also The grades of the children living in the house that received the lights all improved, even those of the children living near them as they shared the light to all study together.
The biggest effect that was found were health improvements. Many of the people in the trial reported loosing the cough or the tickling in their throat that they thought was just a part of life. Children cleared chest problems that they had had for years, their eyes were no longer sore and irritated and the skin no longer suffered the effects of dermatitis, just to name a few. On so many levels the trial was a success.
The next steps
A company was set up to help market the lights. We invested our own savings to create the best light and to have it -literally- tested in the field.
The users were so happy, they came to thank us personally on our next visit.
The lights had proven themselves even more by getting UN certified under the Gold Standard of the Clean Development mechanism (CDM).
This means by replacing the kerosene lamps, our lights created so much reduction in CO2 emissions that they were able to create Carbon Credits, enabling the sale of the light against very low costs.
From here, the idea grew. The Health and Educational benefits of the light were now even more important than the financial savings to the family. However as the average wage is quite low, we needed to find a way to produce, ship and distribute the light at a very affordable price. In the back of my dad’s head was still the reduction of kerosene and CO2. From here the team started to build, FSS partnered with CarbonSoft and local NGOs to be able to distribute lights out the people that need them at the lowest price possible.
The reduction of kerosene used meant that there was also a reduction in CO2 emission. By selling carbon credits for the CO2 reduction, FSS found the way to produce the light and sell at cost price. with NGOs assisting in the education and distribution.
Jim, Nicky and Harry wanted to be more directly and more focused and ‘hands-on’, involved in the distribution and production & development and started FlexiWay Solar Solutions (FlexiWay was the name of Jim’s previous company).
This way they can use their detailed knowledge and global network and NGO partners to further distribute the unique solar-powered LED light for the direct benefit of the less fortunate amongst us that often live in the dark.
2 years on brings us to this point. For a few dollars we can place a light in a family’s home and give them back ¼ of their wages (about $100/year), improve their quality of life and enhance their health.
What does $100 mean to you?
- 1 Alleviate poverty Reduce poverty by saving 25% of household costs!
- 2 Health benefits removing toxic and dangerous kerosene from households
- 3 Prevent fire hazards Kerosene lamps are leading cause of house fires
- 4 Enabling education Students can study better & longer, more money for books
- 5 Save our planet Stop global warming, deforestation and pollution
- 6 Increase income Light at night can create additional income streams
- 7 Empowering women LED lights create a brighter future for women and girls
- 8 Empower communities Light generates joint income, offers new possibilities
- 9 Increase safety bringing light in houses and community
- 10 Solar education Teach students and entrepreneurs about solar