This innovation is a partnership between several companies who united in order to empower local women in Kenya to emerge out of poverty and to become independent.
Partners who were involved in this program: MPOWERD, NewCourse, and the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust (MWCT).
The partnership distributed 400 Luci solar lights to Kenyan women who were organized into women's groups (WGs) and then were trained to go out and sell the Luci solar lights for 10$ each. New Course donated these Luci lights to the group of women (WGs) to resell.
Luci Solar lights is an innovation by an organization called MPOWERD (www.mpowerd.com). Their goal is to help people around the world who are living without electricity. These Luci lights produce clean energy at affordable prices. Luci lights are charged by sunlight and get up to 12 hours of light from solar.
Quote from New Course: "There are currently thirteen WGs with a total of approximately 350 women who meet regularly to conduct business, manage the affairs of the group, and discuss issues of common concern”.
New Course's goal was to help women in Kenya to become more powerful and more independent so that they could have choices in their lives. In 2013 New Course brought Luci solar lights to the Maasai in Tsavo and Amboseli in Kenya. They made women a part of the process of distributing Luci lights. The idea was to boost the economy in reinvesting the money in local business, which was a very successful idea.
They created a program called E 3Merge: Energy, Entrepreneurship, and Environment Solutions, which is basically a program to engage women in the economy and create women groups who works together and solve the community problems. Their mission aligns with that of MPOWERD's: “Making the world a brighter place for the 1.5 billion living without electricity through clean, affordable light”.
The original idea was to empower women by giving them a source of income. The innovation then proved to be transformational to the women in Kenya on many levels. These women have now started to contribute in the decision making process of Kenya’s society, and to partake in community development.
Women also used their new-found empowerment to better inform themselves and their communities of alternatives to FGC (female genital cutting). They are looking at some of their neighbors, whose leaders have replaced FGC with simpler and safer solutions that still respect cultural heritage. The E 3Merge program has also increased the women's interests in green technologies that can further improve indoor air quality, recover water quality, and provide economic opportunities for women which has been shown to impact all of society.
As a result of the economic initiative, the women then started to come together in meetings to address business issues, but soon they found that the women were also meeting to discuss community issues and areas of common concerns. Through these meetings a group of powerful women came together expressing the desire to end female genital cutting and protect the health and well-being of their daughters.
In order to support these women in their journey to challenge this harmful social norm, New Course secured a grant from the Grousemont Foundation to ensure women are successful in their bid to increase their access to health information, develop tools to disseminate this information to other community members, and learn from nearby communities who have successfully eliminated female cutting. These women have taken their new found economic status, resources, and social unity and have used it to drive additional social change from within their communities.
Thus, a business idea that helps women has been found to have untold societal benefits as well.
It's hard to measure the overall impact because it is so broad:
First, the Luci solar lights themselves help people around the world who live without electricity by providing clean energy affordable lighting. The Luci solar lights have improved the health of children who were suffering from the kerosene lamps that were prevalent before the Luci solar lights became available.
Next, the initiative to create micro-businesses for Kenyan women who sell the Luci lights has changed these women's lives for the better and given them a measure of independence that they have never had before.
Finally, the WGs (women's groups) which formed around the businesses became empowered to make vital social and political changes in Kenya including addressing the very difficult issue of FGC.
This innovation demonstrates some of the many unintended consequences of empowering women economically. This initiative has impacted untold lives enormously.
We chose to write a story about this innovation, because we saw how it helps the world and how it has a strong positive effect on the society and the environment. E 3Merge program was very successful in terms of short and long term benefits. What makes the innovation of Luci solar lights so interesting and significant, is the way it helps the world in different ways. One innovation changed the environment, the women's situation in Kenya, the economy, and tackled FGC. In terms of short term benefits, the Luci lights are very easy to use and provide the sufficient amount of light needed. They are inflatable, which makes it very practical to use daily. The long-term benefits are almost too many to count.
The Luci solar lights can also be used out doors, and under the rain. The Luci lights were a great solution for women who are mainly affected by the lack of energy and electricity. As explained by the company itself: "Women in Kenya are responsible for resources activities. They work in low-income informal positions. Also, they are responsible for collecting water, and providing food. Most of women used toxic materials such as kerosene for lighting, which pollutes the air severely and sometimes causes burns, and the use of biomass for cooking. Also, the worst is that women were forced to spend a lot of their income on buying Kerosene."
In measures of long-term effects, the reduction of air pollution, has also improved the health in Kenya families, especially children. Moreover, it increases incomes as families are no longer paying for energy sources. The business of the women groups also increased the funds for food and water. Luci lights also helped students to study at night and improve their educational prospects. The reduction of black carbon is also one of the most significant long term benefits for Kenya. Women also used their newfound empowerment to better inform themselves and their communities of alternatives to FGC.
**Since publication the number of Luci lights distributed has increased to 500 with several hundred more likely to go out in the next few months. Additionally, nearby partner – the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, has expanded the program and has already distributed approximately 500 Luci lights with another 1000 being deployed in the months ahead. https://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org. While this project does not tackle FGC (as it is not a practice in these communities) the work is focused on reducing poaching and the first few poachers have been caught as a result of information provided by women. This project is about 9 months along with similar job, savings, and empowerment benefits.
Jamie Bechtel, CEO
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Seattle, WA, United States
Business Website: https://mpowerd.com/
Year Founded: 2008
Number of Employees: 201-500