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LIGHT THE WORLD! Create economic freedom and self-worth through solar light.

WOL uses solar light & financial education to provide the hidden poor a path out of poverty - creating POVERTY ALLEVIATION IN 1 GENERATION.

Photo of Michelle Retson

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Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

Over 1 billion people live without access to electricity. Watts of Love serves around the world, partnering with local NGOs to distribute lights to families in extreme poverty. Each recipient is provided financial empowerment education on how to save in order to increase productivity, personal empowerment, health and safety, and education. We equip families with the tools to become self reliant and encourage them to reinvest in something sustainable, such as purchase of a farm animal (an immediate protein source), to use the light to increase nighttime productivity, or to send a child to school. This project will enable us to scale in a big way, increasing our annual distribution 40x from 5,000 families per year to 194,000 families in the next 3 years. Changing our delivery method from short term teams to local “LIGHTHOUSE” centers would enable us to distribute in several regions simultaneously while creating employment opportunities for future solar light replacement sales and repair and continued support. This leverages our relationships and allows the local NGO to expand their work with people they’re already serving. Our empowerment model remains the same: each light recipient receives training which educates them on how renewable solar lighting dramatically improves quality of life and finances. They are also introduced to the concept of saving, which is often an unknown or previously unobtainable practice. On average, families annually save up to $237 on kerosene alone. Through our program, we've seen families achieve poverty alleviation overnight. In several case studies, we've seen poverty elimination can be accomplished in one generation. Our LIGHTHOUSE project can provide potential reinvestment in the community of $94 million in 3 years.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Solar lights benefit families in ultra-poverty around the globe who have little to no access to electricity. Each solar light will impact a family with an average size of 7 people. LIGHTHOUSE sites will be established in nations where there is extreme poverty and Watts of Love has strong established relationships with partner NGOs. Our pilot locations are based on urgent need, poverty level, energy access, NGO relationships, previous distribution success, and local capacity to manage a new ongoing initiative.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

WOL is the only program in the world providing solar light with our education model. It encourages communities to shift their thinking, now they can “pay themselves” and save. We don’t just hand out solar lights: we provide financial empowerment to each family creating poverty alleviation in 1 generation. A recent NYU Capstone study concluded that face to face and heart to heart interactions is the only way to achieve long lasting transformation. We ask recipients to identify personal goals verbally and visually (via infographic) for how they will use this savings and train to properly care for the light. When interviewed, light recipients recalled the concept of paying yourself 3 years later. After years of testing in the field, we have developed a high-quality light with durability and sustainability in mind. Lights from our 1st distribution are still working 5 years later. Now families can purchase a light once a local LIGHTHOUSE is established - creating a sustainable program.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Prototype: I have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing the idea.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

We are a nonprofit organization that provides solar lights and financial empowerment education to families around the world without access to electricity.

Expertise in sector

  • 5-7 years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

The Watts of Love story began in 2009 when Nancy Economou traveled to the Philippines. She met a young girl severely burned by a kerosene lamp — the only source of light for many in the developing world. “My mother’s heart cracked open when I saw families stuck in this terrible situation,” she said. “Kerosene lamps are incredibly dangerous. Children live with burns and upper respiratory disease. I didn’t know what to do, but I knew I had to do something. That’s how Watts of Love began.”

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

When WOL enters a community, we are all inclusive because light shines on all equally. We intentionally utilize light as tool & resource to build bridges & bring peace, by working with both private & public sectors without discrimination. Dependence on kerosene hinders prosperity for families in ultra-poverty. 30% of a family's income can be spent on kerosene annually. Solar light IMMEDIATELY IMPACTS families, giving them financial freedom & addresses urgent needs by increasing income, feeding families, educating communities, saving lives, starting businesses, improving health & safety and delivering babies. The use of kerosene impacts climate change & health: yearly exposure to toxic soot from kerosene kills nearly 2 million. More women and children are severely burned annually than are diagnosed with HIV and TB combined. A total of 270,000 tons of black carbon is emitted world-wide from kerosene yearly warming equivalent to 240 million tons of CO2. Solar reduces deforestation.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

After distributing 30,000+ lights in some of the harshest environments in the world, we are ready to take a proven model and replicate it with NGO partners. Our pilots will be launched by established NGOs whose intentional programs are designed to impact peace, prosperity and planet. Our partners serve the last mile hidden poor and have capabilities to distribute lights to thousands. They work with local leaders to identify regions and communities in desperate need. A community LIGHTHOUSE provides long term access to solar light and its benefits with increased economic opportunity, personal empowerment, health & safety, and education. Utilizing local partners creates jobs, impacts more families, improves distribution efficiency, and enables ongoing support/training and allows for impact assessment after a period of time. When we do follow-up impact interviews, we see how powerful local leaders are when trained to train and equip others in their communities.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

Across the globe, when we introduce our empowerment model, hope is renewed. Encouragement & love ignites and extracts dreams & hopes that were buried by the darkness of poverty. The greatest strength of these communities is that they have the freedom of choice & how they will use the light to transform their lives. We encourage independence & self-reliance. A determined individual is unstoppable. When they hear how this newfound savings can help their family, they take control of their future

Geographic Focus

WOL lights are in 29+ countries, with focus areas: Mozambique, Haiti, Guatemala, Philippines, Nepal

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

Our pilot LIGHTHOUSES will be launched over a 36 month period. We have identified several initial pilots. Year one will focus on scaling with emphasis on capital and capacity expansion. Year two will focus on optimizing and innovating products to ensure we are meeting the needs of the communities we serve. Year three will focus on sustainability by strengthening and expanding existing LIGHTHOUSES and making replacement lights available for sale.

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No


Join the conversation:

Photo of Kathleen Rommel

What an amazing project! I'm also encouraged that solar lights lessen instances of deforestation in areas where wood burning is the primary light source. Keep up the great work!

Photo of Michelle Retson

Thank you, Kathleen

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