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Posted at 06:00 AM ET, 08/15/2011

Solar light bulb sheds light on social entre­pre­neur­ship model


Children hold up Nokero solar-powered LED light bulbs at the Thriving Talents School in Kisii, Kenya. (Cheyenne Ellis - Nokero.com)

Problems facing the developing world are wide-ranging and include the need for potable water, adequate food and efficient, affordable lighting.

Inventor Stephen Katsaros’s solar-powered light bulb may go a long way towards fixing the last of those three.

Katsaros created a solar light bulb that uses the sun’s rays to charge a battery-powered LED light supply for roughly four hours. The battery, which is replaceable, lasts roughly 300-500 charges, while the product itself can last as long as five years.

The significance of Katsaros’s invention is that it stands to provide light for the 1.4 billion people who live beyond the reach of a power grid, as well as for those who use kerosene lamps to light their homes and workplaces. The potential elimination of kerosene lamps was what inspired Katsaros to name his company Nokero — as in “no kerosene.” Kerosene is a relatively expensive fuel source that can be harmful to consumers’ health.

Katsaros, while considering how best to market the product, concluded that his largest market was in the developing world. But, rather than create a charitable organization, Katsaros made the choice to establish a company through which he could sell the bulbs for profit. Nokero has sold thousands of bulbs to nonprofits and NGOs that distribute them for free, but Katsaros says he believes in creating “smaller entrepreneurs around the globe” that can further foster local economic growth, according to an Aug. 14 CNN report.

A visit to the Nokero Web site shows the bulbs among other solar-powered products available for sale. The Nokero N100 retails for $15. Katsaros says the price for the N100 drops to as little as $6 for NGOs and large-product distributors, and that, over time, the price could drop further.

Katsaros, who received inspiration for his business model from Paul Polak’s 2008 book “Out of Poverty,” is not alone when it comes to favoring the social entre­pre­neur­ship model over that of a traditional charity. ­­­In the global fight against famine, organizations such as the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) are adopting the same principle. Gautam Ramnath, the manager of GAIN’s business development and leverage group, outlined the organization’s philosophy in an interview with the Post earlier this month:

“In order to improve access among vulnerable populations to affordable and diverse nutritious foods, one must view them as a consumer society versus a handout culture to ensure sustainability.”

What do you think? Is the social entre­pre­neur­ship model the right path toward fixing problems facing developing countries? Or are NGOs and charities the way to go?

By  |  06:00 AM ET, 08/15/2011

Categories:  Business, Entrepreneurship, Invention, Morning Read, Technology, Video

 
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