by Wolfgang Gregor
Almost five years ago, in May 2010, during the 2nd “Lighting Africa Conference” in Nairobi, the idea of creating an Off Grid Lighting association was born. Initiated by IFC, more than 20 companies, NGOs and other stakeholders signed a respective LOI based on an IFC concept paper. What was the main idea behind this visionary approach? The IFC proposition was indeed visionary:
“The joint World Bank/IFC Lighting Africa program has set an important grounding for the long term development of clean sustainable off-grid lighting solutions; however, for progression, ongoing direction, and long-term sustainability, this needs to be transferred to an independent nonprofit membership based organization.”
According to Dr. Harald Schuetzeichel, one of GOGLA’s founding members and first president this was a strong signal to all market participants, institutions and governments and a perfect showcase example for IFC. “Both World Bank and IFC started the creation of a new market segment, followed by a consequent handover to the industry. A reason to join”. Two years later GOGLA was born and in a few weeks GOGLA will celebrate its third birthday.
However; still today GOGLA is unable to finance its activities through own income and the dependence from IFC is evident. As per the original concept, IFC promised to secure financing GOGLA until such a time, that GOGLA would be able to survive on its own. Today one of the most important tasks for GOGLA’s new Executive Director Koen Peters, is the search for funding. On request he stated that: “IFC has not yet agreed in writing that it will continue to support GOGLA …, but discussions are currently ongoing”. Surely not a basis for a professional future planning.
Cooperation between GOGLA and IFC
Is GOGLA just an alibi for IFC to collect funds from supporting governments and institutions for its Lighting Global program? Although it was often stated that this program will come to an end (latest in 2017) and that GOGLA will be empowered to take over the functions and tasks, almost nothing happens. The cooperation between GOGLA and IFC for the upcoming Lighting Global Conference and the intention to hand over the market data are only homoeopathic steps in line with the promised handover of activities. Is it that, what the IFC Lighting Global program donors are expecting?
Until today IFC is still in firm control of all relevant processes and still expanding its sphere of influence. It is not against GOGLA but it seems almost without GOGLA. The fact that IFC controls the market data, standards and also part of the financing system can be seen as a conflict of interest. An industry association without control of the global market data is not worthwhile to be called an association. Same applies to setting up standards and norms. IFC is a bank - and shouldn’t a bank concentrate on its core competence – financing?
Today Solar Home Systems (SHS) are entering the markets and the small “Entry Level Solar Lanterns” will become less important. On a global level SHS are mainly distributed by selling the components allowing the necessary flexibility for producers and users as well. The Bangladesh model is a perfect and successful example which demonstrates how the market mechanisms work. Yes, it is a subsidized project to initiate the market; however so is and was the Lighting Global Program.
A new IFC project is the creation of a “SHS Certification Body”, which interferes with all known market mechanisms - the birth of a costly and bureaucratic set-up, without comparison in any global industry - a hidden extension of the Lighting Global program? Instead of following the Bangladesh success story, IFC intends to “standardize” whole systems (kits) including those components, which are already successful in operation and produced under existing standards and norms.
Quality is important, but only based on common accepted standards and processes. Where are the benchmarks with other products supporting the new IFC proposal? The success story of the mobile telephone in Africa is a perfect example for free market mechanisms. A new certification body will mainly support the infrastructure which has been built up by IFC and which seems to have created an unstoppable momentum. Prior investing in unwanted bureaucracy it is now the right time to independently analyze the results of the IFC Lighting Global project. This should be also a requirement of the program partners and its financers.
Quo Vadis GOGLA?
What is GOGLA's role in this game? The organization has been set up and is ready to implement its vision and strategy. But is GOGLA's vision sustainable? During the last 3 years the market has changed and the concentration on “entry level solar powered lanterns” is cooling down. Obviously GOGLA needs to expand its activities in line with the growing demand for Solar Home Systems and other relevant applications. There is no need for a “one product only” association. Like all other global associations, GOGLA needs to immediately take over the control of the market data and to drive all standardization activities. This must go in line with an expansion of the product scope. In addition GOGLA must aim for a partnership with IFC on eye level.
In a written statement Russel Sturm (IFC) confirmed the ongoing IFC interest in “the building of GOGLA as a strong, sustainable, voice for the industry”. GOGLA must not allow IFC to abdicate from its responsibilities. A sustainable financing and a transparent handover strategy are part of the deal. If GOGLA continues playing the role of an “IFC junior partner”, it will lose its credibility sooner than later as an independent global association - the first of its kinds for the developing world. This was the original intention of the “founding fathers” and the beauty behind the original concept.
It was the common wish that GOGLA members represent small and midsize industries of industrialized and developing countries. Large market players who can afford to finance their own association are still missing. With today 50 members thereof 40% from developing countries, GOGLA has delivered and the trend is still positive - for how long?
Wolfgang Gregor is an independent journalist (DPV) with focus on sustainability and lighting. He started his career in multinational lighting company with responsibility for Off Grid Lighting, Global Associations and Sustainability. Gregor was formerly the Secretary General of GOGLA.