Great interview on the impacts of solar lights on improving women's lives

Every Mother Counts Staff
April 22, 2013

Christy and Erin met Jill Van den Brule, co-founder of Micro Power Design (MPowerD) at the Women in the World Summit earlier this month where she explained their Luci light, a product they think will change the world.  It’s solar powered and functions as a task light, flash light and diffused lantern.  It’s lightweight, portable, and collapsible and provides dependable, sustainable lighting in areas that lack reliable energy sources. How does that pertain to women and maternal health?  We found Jill’s answer totally enlightening.

How did the Luci light and MPowerD come about?

I’m one of six founders of MPowerD and the only woman on the team. I worked in Haiti for a couple of years after the earthquake and for Unicef doing work that focused on impacting women and children.  I’ve always been concerned about the impact the lack of light in a home makes on women’s lives. My cofounders and I decided to pool our resources and focus on solar-powered light. We pulled together a team, built this light and within a year we’re on the ground in fifteen countries.

What kind of impact do you see the light making?

Think about the work millions of girls and women do every day and about the difference light makes. Mothers walk hours a day to collect wood biomass or kerosene for their family’s lighting, cooking and heating needs. There are negative health outcomes that come from breathing wood smoke and kerosene fumes. Their children do homework with kerosene light and their eyes burn and tear from the fumes. Countless children suffer from kerosene burns every year. In Bangladesh, kerosene lamps are responsible for 23% of infant burns. Three multi-year reviews of admissions to Nigerian hospitals attributed approximately 30% of all burn cases to kerosene.

How do people react to the light when they get one?

Their initial concern is that it’ll be hot and dangerous. But they quickly learn it’s completely cool and greatly improves their safety and quality of life.  It’s light they can stand by so they don’t have to go out in the street to study. The entire family doesn’t have to huddle around one candle. A little girl can walk through a slum at night or walk to the latrine without being as afraid of being raped. A study showed the incident of rape and violent crime goes down 20-50 percent when you introduce light. By providing a portable light you enable people to be responsible for their own security and safety. Reliable light is very empowering for women. 

How have you seen it directly help maternal health?

Imagine the implications for health workers delivering babies in the dark. Now they can have a light in their kit that’s compact enough to take to rural areas. They don’t have to rely on fire or kerosene, which give off fumes and smoke you don’t want newborns to breathe.  Having access to a light to in a delivery is incredibly important. 

The WHO says that 200,000 to 400,000 healthcare facilities in developing countries still lack access to reliable electricity. While many medical procedures can wait for daylight, childbirth happens 24 hours per day.  Studies indicate simply having access to minimal lighting and appliance-operating services can prevent a large number of maternal deaths.

What’s exciting is that the introduction of light acts as a catalyst for change that impacts women’s lives more than anyone else in the developing world. It targets education, health and economic development. Income that used to be spent on fuel women can now be invested in things like livestock and education. It improves health and safety outcomes because children aren’t getting burned and families aren’t breathing toxic fumes.

According to the most recent data available as of 2009, 1.4 billion people lack access to electricity. We’re talking about energy poverty. UN leaders talk about energy as the golden thread that cuts through the Millennium Development Goals.  That’s what makes this a very exciting endeavor for our company. The Luci light is the first product in the pipeline, but we’re creating many other things we think are going to be major game changers.

How do people get their hands on a Luci light? 

MPowereD is a for-profit social enterprise, but “giving” is at the forefront of our company’s DNA.   The reason we are a for-profit organization is because there are anywhere from 1.3 to 1.6 billion people living completely off the grid and another 1.5 billion have unreliable energy access. To really tackle the issue you need to have a sustainable business model so we created a product that’s really unique.  It’s cool looking, lightweight, great for camping and other purposes that appeal to all markets not just those in developing countries. We realized we could address the goal of getting light into developing countries more effectively by selling the product in large-scale volume.  That way we can get the price down and set up distribution in developing countries.  Then people can buy it with their income. Right now the price is $14.95 retail and $7-9 wholesale for NGOs, but that will change dramatically as we reach larger and larger scale. Right now people in developing countries spend five or ten dollars a month on fuel and the purchase of a light means they end up saving money. If there are 50,000 rural farmers in Haiti right now, by the end of the year they’ll save about $1.3 million by introducing the Luci Light into their communities. It’s a sustainable way of conserving energy, protecting the environment and improving women’s daily lives. 

We’ll be keeping our eyes on MPowerD long after Earth Day because we think Every Connection they make between light, maternal health, women, and empowerment counts. 

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Thanks, interesting.
Though it is just one among many attractive solar lanterns:

Still, my ongoing feedback collection shows that currently Sun King Eco tops the list.

The point was not so much the particular product, but the wonderful benefits that accrue, that people might not realize, like improved maternal and baby survival, or safer latrine use.


Do you have any data on the benefits?

I love this! Thank you for sharing. Is there any chance that one of your 15 countries is South Africa? Or do you know of any companies working in this area there?



Hi Jacqui,

Perhaps this will be useful:

Or, just let me know if I can further help.

Thank you! I think that will do the job for now.

Our recent study on the health impacts of fuel-based lighting highlights a number of stats about how women (and children), in particular, are impacted.

Fascinating stuff!

Could you share the link/source for the stat about rape/crime going down?



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