A student-run enterprise is improving the lives and economic chances of people in rural Africa by providing safe, sustainable lighting.
A team of enterprising Southampton students have launched a project, 'Right Light', to replace kerosene with solar lamps. The project was established by Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) Southampton, a social enterprise affiliated to the University of Southampton Students' Union.
Kerosene lamps have been the traditional source of light in rural communities across the developing world. However, they are far from ideal, providing poor quality light and affecting people's respiratory health. Kerosene is also expensive - sometimes accounting for a third of a family's expenditure - and has a detrimental environmental impact. Solar lamps are safer, greener and cost less in the long term, but the initial cost is too high for many communities.
Right Light has come up with a solution, making solar lamps affordable through a microfinance scheme which means families can pay for a lamp in manageable installments. With the money from repayments six local entrepreneurs have been set up, who rent out lamps to families who don't want to be tied into a repayment contract.
The results of a trial involving 107 families across three communities in Madagascar illustrate the project's benefits. Family expenditure was increased by 10 per cent, 470 children were able to study at night and the health of 75 per cent of family members was improved. The scheme is now expanding to rural Kenya, where Right Light has set up 14 new entrepreneurs this year, meaning 140 families now have access to solar power.
Michael Austin, a geography student and founder of Right Light, says: "Right Light is innovative as it brings together microfinance and a product that is already capable of changing lives. The fact that it is not the microfinance industry or solar lamp manufacturers who have made this first step, but university students thousands of miles away, is perhaps innovative in itself."