To learn more about D.light, go to http://www.dlightdesign.com/
Nina Rouhani, who did the reporting for this article, is a recent graduate of Columbia University. She is currently working as an intern for GlobalAtlanta.
D.light Design Inc., which manufactures and sells solar-powered lamps in poor areas of the globe, believes entrepreneurship can fuel social change.
GlobalAtlanta met representatives of the company during the First East Africa Energy Conference held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in June. The company, which was incorporated in May 2007, opened its East Africa office in Tanzania this year.
Sam Goldman, a co-founder, was a Peace Corps volunteer in Benin when he learned firsthand how extremely dangerous kerosene lamps can be. The son of his neighbor almost died from severe burns when a fire ignited spilled kerosene.
Despite their dangers and the fact that they provide poor light, kerosene lamps are the primary source of lighting for millions of people living in rural areas of Africa and elsewhere.
Following his Peace Corps service, Mr. Goldman earned a master’s degree from Stanford University and started D.light Design with the purpose of replacing the millions of kerosene lamps with solar-powered lamps.
Positioned as a “social entrepreneur,” the company has been able to raise $6.5 million in capital from a collection of different venture firms, which responded to its mission.
Among the firms involved in the funding is the Acumen Fund, a non-profit global venture fund that uses entrepreneurial approaches to solve the problems of global poverty. It was incorporated in 2001 with seed capital from the Rockefeller Foundation, Cisco Systems Foundation and individual philanthropists.
Other participating firms with similar objectives include Draper Fisher Jurvetson, best known for having backed Hotmail and Skype; Garage Technology Ventures, a California-based seed capital firm; Mahindra and Mahindra, one of India’s largest conglomerates; Nexus India Capital, a leading Indian venture firm, among others.
Dorcas Cheng-Tozun, director of communications, estimated that 150 million people in the East African Community do not have access to electricity making the company’s opening in Dar “one of the most significant potential markets for our products.”
While D.light's products are relatively expensive for East Africans, ranging from $10 to $40, the purchase of a single lamp can replace the maintenance cost of buying kerosene, which accounts for 5 to 30 percent of monthly income.
“Households in East Africa may pay as much as $10 a month for kerosene so purchasing a $20 solar lighting product makes very good economic sense,” Ms. Cheng-Tozen told GlobalAtlanta.
D.light’s employees visit customers on a monthly basis and engage in regular follow up calls with both customers that have bought their products and potential customers that did not.
“We have spent hundreds of hours in villages interviewing potential customers about their needs and desires for lighting and energy products,” said Ms. Cheng-Tozun.
She added that the products are designed specifically for the customers and take into account expected usage, daily activities and environmental conditions including “everything from weather conditions to dust, to insects, to the impact on household structure and to how we develop our products.”
The East Africa office is currently focused on building relationships with distributors including mobile phone companies.