Five Innovators Heading to CGI: Let Their Be Light

1.6 billion people live without access to electricity.


1.6 billion people live without access to electricity. Most of them are women and children living in rural areas in developing countries. In a private interview with Katherine Lucey, Founder and CEO, Solar Sister, she explained that the lack of affordable energy “hinders productivity and educational opportunities, essentially keeping people in poverty.”


After twenty years as an investment banker in the power sector, Lucey decided to give back. She turned her attention from billion dollar infrastructure projects to fifteen dollar solar lanterns. Her approach to providing alternative energy in rural Uganda, while providing employment and income to women, is getting accolades and support.

There are two aspects to Lucey’s solution. First, the solution involves new technology solar lanterns as the most affordable and effective means to provide light in rural homes in Uganda, and ultimately other developing countries. Lucey explained that, “at a tenth of the cost, a lantern supplies as much light as a 10 watt solar panel system, it lasts for ten years, and there are no parts or maintenance.” Second, Solar Sister provides employment and income to women in the community as Avon-style sales personnel; they sell the lanterns through their social networks, and they make commissions.

Once again, as I described as “new school” in two recent posts, the solution is “More Business, Less Charity.” As Lucey said to me, “we need market-based solutions. No charity will solve such a huge challenge where 1.6 billion people are concerned.”

Lucey will be featured at the Clinton Global Initaitive (CGI) Sixth Annual Meeting next week by the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), ExxonMobil, and Ashoka Changemakers. These three partners made a commitment at last year’s CGI to find innovative technology solutions to advance the lives of women economically. Solar Sister will be among the NGOs that the partners present.

This is the third post in my series on Five Innovators Heading to CGI. Here is the first (An NGO Cementing Change) and second (A New Technology to Power Your Car, Reduce Wrinkles & Make Lunch). In the next two days, I’ll feature two more innovators who are heading to CGI. Next week, I’ll blog from CGI.


About the author

Korngold provides strategy consulting to global corporations on sustainability, facilitating corporate-nonprofit partnerships, and training and placing hundreds of business executives on NGO/nonprofit boards for 20+ years. She provides strategy and board governance consulting to NGO/nonprofit boards, foundations, and educational and healthcare institutions. Korngold's latest book is "A Better World, Inc.: How Companies Profit by Solving Global Problems…Where Governments Cannot," published by Palgrave Macmillan for release on 1/7/14