On the window sill in the bathroom I keep a WakaWaka solar light. It’s been illuminating the bathroom for the kids at night for years, and it’s probably my favourite gadget in the house. WakaWaka developed their solar light for households without electricity, and their business is a response to the 1 billion people in the world who do not yet have a clean source of light.
WakaWaka sell their lights online on a buy-one give-one basis, and each purchase pays for one to be given away. Importantly, these donated lights are for disaster situations or refugee camps. The lights are not given away for free in normal circumstances, as it undermines the market for other solar light retailers in the area, and creates a dependence on charity. At the same time, many of the target households can’t afford a solar light. So how does a solar light company get its lights to those who need them most, if you can’t sell them or give them away?
Using a model developed by SolarAid, WakaWaka have begun operating ‘solar libraries’. Schools are given a stock of solar lights, which charge at the school during the day. Students are able to check out a light and take it home with them to do their homework, and then bring it back in the morning.
As SolarAid discovered when they piloted the idea of solar libraries, often families experience the difference a solar light can make and the savings from not buying kerosene, and choose to buy one. To make this easier, WakaWaka allow households to buy a solar light off the school on a microfinance basis. For a small payment of $0.20 a week to the school throughout the year, school leavers can keep their light.
It’s a neat example of business for the bottom of the pyramid, and it also highlights how access to a good can be provided without necessarily implying ownership. That’s a model that can be applied in high income countries too, reducing waste as part of a circular economy. Lots of things lend themselves to libraries, including musical instruments, power tools or kitchen and catering equipment. Shared ownership expands access while reducing the waste of unused objects. And if you borrow something regularly and find it useful, you can always buy it later.