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IMT Dubai MBA Students Launch a Project to Bring Light to Kenyan Villages

A professor at GBSN member school, IMT Dubai Business School, Dr. Gita Bajaj, mobilized a group of MBA students to develop a cost-effective sustainable solution to bring light to rural Kenyan villages and in the process improve healthcare, and create opportunities for employment.

It all started when Dr. Bajaj met Ken Aim, CEO of the SOWO Foundation at a conference over a year ago. The two began talks of ways to collaborate for capacity building to impact Kenyan communities.

The SOWO Foundation’s mission is to empower communities through capacity building and economic support. From a small village in Siaya County, Kenya and Kibera slum village in the heart of Nairobi City, an idea was hatched by a small number of men and women to better their lives SOWO embraced these vulnerable groups and mobilized the community to help alleviate the wanton suffering. School going children had little or no educational support, widows had poor shelter, some had none at all and food was scarce to many of this group. SOWO provided basic needs for poor families, school uniform for needy orphans and school fees for destitute children. In 1995, it became a community based organization which mobilized local communities to enable change.

Dr. Bajaj introduced Ken and SOWO to IMT Dubai Business School, which whole heartedly embraced the NGO and offered to support it in ways that a Business School could. The B-School stood committed to causes of sustainability and was only too forthcoming to support. The process of exploration was initiated and Ken shared challenges of farmers and fisher women who had little means to alleviate their lives. One of the challenges of these villages is that they have no electricity and are pitch dark in the evenings. No access to electricity affects children’s performance at school as well as limits working times for the adults. Kerosene lamps are the only source of light in the evenings. Research shows that solar lanterns reduce kerosene consumption by half and lead to a reduction in discharges, which helps in terms of climate change and indoor air pollution. In far flung villages of Kenya, the majority of the population does not have access to electricity, since the country’s national grid is unreliable and too expensive for the average citizen to buy into.

However, Kenya has abundance of solar light and some form of solar lighting is a common solution, but most solar-powered lighting systems are expensive for an average Kenyan villager.

How could solar lighting be delivered to these rural villages at a low cost?

Samprikta Sahu, one of the MBA students who had worked in India to deliver a similar solution to an Indian slum came forward presented the ‘Litter for light’ solution and discussions of redesign to make the solution feasible and viable were initiated. ‘Litter for light’ is an innovative design where a wasted Pepsi or Coke plastic bottle is used to light up a pitch dark room with minimal additional apparatus such as water, bleach, a solar panel and a bulb. Two more students, Adhithyan and Sriram volunteered to join in and the design thinking in context of the requirements of the villages in Kenya were initiated and a prototype of the solution was developed.

However, the technical solution was only a part of the problem. How would one deliver such a project in a far flung village in Africa? Who would make the equipment? Where will it be made? How and from where would they get the raw material? Who would fund the project? The project wasn’t part of the course curriculum, so even the time spent had to be pulled out from the busy routines of a B-School.

Discussions with Ken on how SOWO could help mobilize women in the villages to form groups were initiated. As part of the learning experience, the MBA students were tasked with delivering a report that outlined the solution, timeline, training and implementation plan and finalized under the guidance of their faculty.

The pilot was designed to bring light to the Niyadhi and Kogelo villages, which totals to 600 homes. The plan is for SOWO to build trust with the people of the villages and identify locals who would support the implementation of this technology by training community members. By commissioning a group of locals to train the community, the project would also generate employment. The MBAs would travel to the villages to deliver initial trainings to the local trainers.

Dr. Bajaj and SOWO teamed up to secure sponsorship funding. Godrej Kenya, which is a leading FMCG company with Darling as one of its flagship products, and a major commitment to women communities in Kenya, signed on to support the pilot. “This one change can be life transforming” Gaurav Kaushal, CEO Godrej Kenya had observed. With the blessings of Mama Sarah Obama and good wishes from Former President Barack Obama, project “Light up Kenya” was launched on July 16, 2018. This project will light up 600 households in the villages of Siaya County with the help of inexpensive renewable solar energy. These solar lamps will not only bring light to the homes but will also create employment opportunities for those trained to assemble and install these solar lamps, thus providing a feasible solution to address energy and poverty challenges in rural Kenya.

Nicole Zefran is the Communications Officer at the Global Business School Network.