As far as grass root foundations are concerned, they are plentiful and abundant. However it is unfortunate that few hit the mainstream media, and many forcibly diffuse just as quickly as they start. The ones that do succeed display certain characteristics and criteria that can be generalized to a relative extent. The criteria for such sustainable development projects can be narrowed down to cheap replication, effectiveness and ease of use. One such initiative that’s spreading around the globe is the Solar Bottle Lamp (it’s known by other names including the water-lamp, water-bottle-lamp etc.).
A decade ago, in the city of Sao Paulo, a struggling mechanic by the name of Alfredo Moser was faced with a crucial decision. Electricity had been cut to his neighbourhood and in effect, had forced Alfredo to either close shop, or come up with a stroke of brilliance. Choosing the latter, Alfredo installed a plastic bottle filled with water through his corrugated roof that instantly illuminated his workshop during the day. The principle behind this novelty is ingenious in its simplicity. A plastic bottle filled with water will refract sunlight in all directions thereby illuminating an entire room to the effect of a 50 to 60 watt bulb. The picture below should give you an idea of just how illuminating this contraption is. A little bleach in the water allows it to remain relatively bacteria free for up to 5 years. Installation merely involves cutting a hole through the roof, inserting the bottle halfway and sealing it shut, and just like that, free light.
Granted, this technology is rendered useless at nighttime when we most desperately need light; however such naysayers underestimate the power of light during the day. Plenty of houses in poorer neighbourhoods suffer from damp and dark environments merely because of enclosing roofs, crowded housing and lack of equipment. Turning on a lamp during the day not only is costly, in most cases it’s not an option just because electricity isn’t available.
This was the humble beginning of the solar-bottle lamp. From here on out it wasn’t picked up in daily news until about last year. Thanks to a grass roots organization started up by Illac Diaz (pictured above), the solar-bottle lamp has exploded into the mainstream media. The Pilipino organization aptly named Isang Litrong Liwanag, or a “Litre of Light”, started visiting slums around the Manila neighbourhood and advertised this invention. The sheer simplicity of installation at near zero cost made it a rather big hit. There were drives conducted for plastic water bottles that would otherwise have to be disposed of or recycled at quite the cost.
Social entrepreneur Illac Diaz is the key drive behind the Manila faction. His motivation to bring light into the poorest of neighbourhoods has rallied the communities as well as provided an entirely new set of “green-jobs”. Collecting and installing a solar-bottle lamp will earn you just over a dollar per bottle, well above most other slum-jobs. Aside from providing light in places where it is direly needed, this concept recycles plastic and reduces the need for daytime electric consumption. Knocking dead plenty of birds with one stone, this project exemplifies the notion of clean, green and renewable energy.
Funding into social entrepreneurship is crucial and worthwhile. It is not merely capital, but knowledge, network and ideas with which investments in social entrepreneurship are fueled. Given opportunity and adequate incubatory periods, ingenious ideas like Alfredo Moser’s can bloom into full-scale development projects that strive to change the world for the better.
[Note: There have been claims that this concept was invented at MIT, a forgivable mistake that has been denied even by the University itself. This ingenious work is credited to Alfredo Moser in Sao Paolo, Brasil; while its role in social entrepreneurship can be attributed to Illac Diaz from the Philipines.]