ALWAYS CONNECTED

Pedro wakes up every morning at 5 am in his little house and proudly heads to his field in a remote region of Alta Verapaz in Northern Guatemala where he grows broccoli and lettuce.

His home is in complete darkness first thing in the morning. He needs light to gather his working tools and his wife needs light to prepare him with food and water to take with him to the farm. In the past, they had to try and do all of this using the feeble light of a candle.

But this was only one of the many problems he confronted. Pedro’s mobile phone often ran out of battery while he was in the fields, making it almost impossible to coordinate the pickup of his harvest with buyers. The freshness of his product would expire in just one day. All his effort and income would be jeopardized.

Today, Pedro enjoys the benefits of a solar lamp. With this simple and affordable device, he and his wife have plenty of light to do all the morning chores before he heads to the fields. He carries his lamp as a lantern so that he can make his way safely to the fields in the morning. He can also charge his phone using the lamp’s USB port. This means he can connect and coordinate with buyers to get his product to market on time. His life and his family’s life have completely changed!

GBL Forms New Alliance with Amigos de la Aldea

Partnership will bring solar energy to millions living without electricity in Central America. 

The Global BrightLight Foundation (GBL) is honored to announce the formation of a strategic alliance with Amigos de la Aldea (ADLA), a not-for-profit based in Guatemala that shares GBL’s mission of improving the quality of life of rural communities in Latin America. The two organizations are jointly implementing a unique social business model to provide access to clean energy solutions in Central America.

Amigos de la Aldea (or “Friends of the Village” in Spanish) was established in 2009 with the goal of facilitating community development through grassroots initiatives in rural areas. Over the past six years, ADLA has developed and implemented several projects featuring solar lanterns and home systems, clean cook stoves, water filters, and a variety of micro-entrepreneurial initiatives. ADLA has deployed medical teams to help rural populations and has coordinated numerous mission and volunteer trips.

ADLA has also developed a rural private education project called “Casa de Luz” (“House of Light”) that educates children in remote areas in Guatemala. “Casa de Luz” has historically depended on donations, which has made it difficult to sustain. ADLA plans to further develop its community initiatives through revenue generated from social enterprise activities in conjunction with GBL.

“We couldn’t be more enthusiastic about our partnership with Amigos de la Aldea.” said Ben Bunker, CEO of the Global BrightLight Foundation. “Both of our organizations strongly believe in social business as a platform that can drastically transform the lives of millions of people living in remote villages in Latin America.”

Miguel Sagastume, Founder of ADLA, echoed this sentiment: “Today we are truly excited and thankful to see our dream re-energized and our horizons expanded with the alliance with Global BrightLight Foundation to advance our projects on solar energy access. I am sure our shared vision, values and passion for helping those in need will allow us to reach many more lives around the world and will take us to places we haven’t even imagined!”

Together GBL and ADLA have hired and trained a growing network of Amigos Promotores (“Promotion Friends”) who are responsible for visiting remote communities to educate people on the benefits of solar power. GBL and ADLA have also established a joint central office in Guatemala City to coordinate operations.

Want to help change lives with solar energy? Make a tax deductible donation now!

Global BrightLight Foundation Establishes Social Enterprise in Latin America

 

The Global BrightLight Foundation has opened a new solar energy social enterprise in Latin America, focusing on the 30 million people in the Western Hemisphere with no access to electricity. Having completed projects in 9 different countries around the world since 2011, CEO Benjamin Bunker and the GBL Board of Directors concluded that the best way for GBL to maximize its impact was to narrow the organization’s geographic focus and become the leading supplier of energy solutions for off-grid communities in Central and South America. GBL will continue to evaluate opportunities outside of Latin America on a case-by-case basis.

In addition to a new geographic focus, GBL is also excited to share that it has adopted a new strategic approach referred to as “social enterprise” to help meet the needs of those without electricity in Latin America. Throughout its history, GBL has experimented with a variety of different models for providing solar power to remote off-grid communities. Some of these models were wholly charitable and people were not asked to contribute towards the cost of the solar lantern they received. This approach was reserved for situations in which it was unreasonable to expect people to contribute anything towards the cost of the lantern due to their abject poverty.

In other situations, GBL asked recipients to put some “skin in the game” by contributing financially. GBL found that not only did those who paid towards the cost of their lantern end up maintaining it better, but also that the revenue generated from that sale could be reinvested by GBL into reaching additional people. GBL’s experience has shown this model, commonly referred to as “social enterprise”, is the most effective, sustainable, and scalable approach to helping to eradicate energy poverty.

GBL will continue to operate as a tax-exempt 501c(3) organization in the US with headquarters in Washington, DC and has established regional headquarters in Guatemala and Peru to serve Central and South America.

 

Starting 2016 Off Strong!

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Greetings from New CEO Ben Bunker

As the newly appointed leader of the Global BrightLight Foundation, I would like to extend a warm greeting to our friends and supporters around the world. It is because of you that we are able to provide opportunity and hope around the world through solar energy. I am proud to have had the privilege of working with GBL as a member of the Advisory Team dating back to 2012 and honored to have been named the CEO of the organization starting this January. We still have a lot of work ahead of us to provide electricity to the remaining 1.2 billion who currently lack access to it. My hope is that these newsletters connect you with the work we are doing. Feel free to drop me a note at ben.bunker@globalbrightlight.org and as always, thank you for your support!

Revisiting Guatemala

In February I visited a group of villages in Northern Guatemala that we provided solar lamps to three years ago in partnership with HELPS International. The impact that the lamps have made on these communities is simply stunning. Much of the change was driven by the fact that after receiving their solar lamp, families no longer had to pay for inferior and dirty lighting sources like candles or kerosene and no longer had to travel hours to have their cell phone charged for a fee.

The costs of candles, kerosene and cell phone charging are significant to these families and can account for 15-20% of their income per month. Over the 5-year life of the solar lamps, families can save over $500 on lighting and cell phone charging costs. This money can be used to purchase additional food, medical supplies, and to pay for school fees. When asked how the lamp had changed her life, one elderly woman replied that for the first time in her life she could afford luxuries. I was curious to know what she meant by “luxuries” and she replied: “I can finally put sugar in my coffee in the morning.” I looked down at the cup of coffee with sugar she had given me and was reminded how truly life changing our work is!

Donation to the Mahama Camp in Rwanda

In partnership with Great Lakes Energy and Plan International, the Global BrightLight Foundation is proud to announce the distribution of 589 solar lamps to the Mahama Refugee Camp in Rwanda. The camp was established in 2015 to accommodate thousands of Burundian refugees who fled to Rwanda amidst political turmoil in their home country. The lamps will be given to community leaders, volunteers, and police officers to provide safety and security for the camp’s residents. This includes providing high quality lighting to restroom and wash facilities to help combat instances of sexual and gender based violence. We look forward to sharing more stories from the camp once the distribution is under way.

Looking Ahead in 2016

The year ahead looks very bright and I am looking forward to continuing to share stories about our impact from around the world in the coming months. Please visit our website today to make a tax deductible donation and help us bring clean, affordable solar power to people in need around the world.

Shine on!

Global BrightLight Foundation Names Benjamin Bunker CEO

The Global BrightLight Foundation (GBF) is pleased to announce that Benjamin Bunker has been selected as its next Chief Executive Officer. Bunker, who most recently worked as a clean energy consultant, will be in charge of managing daily operations and will concentrate on expanding BrightLight’s global impact. He will be based at Global BrightLight Foundation’s new Washington, DC office.

Bunker began his association with the organization when it was founded in 2012.

“The Global BrightLight Foundation is very fortunate to have Ben as our new CEO. Ben has been involved with GBF since its inception in 2011. His research on off-grid solar energy in the summer of 2011 helped shape BrightLight’s mission and define our vision of universal access to clean, sustainable electricity. He remained involved as a member of the BrightLight Advisory Council over the past five years, lending his expertise in solar energy technology, business development, and relationship building. The board looks forward to Ben’s leadership as GBF continues to grow.” said Joe Hale, GBF’s founding director.

Before joining BrightLight full time, Bunker supported the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in updating its Energy Efficiency Training and Field Support Toolkit, which assists USAID mission staff in designing and implementing energy efficiency programs in developing countries. He also supported the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR program where he focused on building strong public private partnerships to promote energy efficiency.

He holds an M.S. in Sustainable Energy Systems from the School of Natural Resources and Environment from the University of Michigan and a B.A. in Politic Science from Bates College. He also has a professional certification from Solar Energy International with a specialization in developing world applications for off-grid solar power.

The Global BrightLight Foundation has supplied more solar lanterns to families in developing countries than any other US based not for profit organization. GBF has successfully conducted projects in Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia, Haiti, Guatemala, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Nepal. GBF was the first responder with solar lanterns to areas affected by the Nepalese earthquake in April 2015.

To learn more about Global BrightLight Foundation’s work or simply to say hello, please feel free to reach out by emailing ben.bunker@globalbrightlight.org or calling (202)-350-1915.

Response to the Nepal Earthquake

The Global BrightLight Foundation has been one of the first responders to the most rural villages in Nepal damaged by the earthquake. Thanks to our partner Niraj Subedi who had an inventory of GBF solar lamps available. Niraj put them in his car and drove 5 hours to Kumari VDC of Nuwakot district, where, as you can see in the photos here, the houses were constructed of mud. GBF’s solar lamps have been a Godsend to these people. Thanks Niraj. We couldn’t be more proud.

Reflections on 2014

Two thousand fourteen was a watershed year for Global BrightLight Foundation!

GBF provided over 65,000 solar lanterns to families in nine countries – from Nepal to Zambia. Over 300,000 people’s lives were transformed by having light in their homes for the first time.  Eighteen thousand people in the UNHCR Kiziba refugee camp in rural Rwanda no longer breathed kerosene fumes and felt safe as they traveled to one of the 12 public latrines at night. Lives changed by a simple, $25 solar lantern.
GBF continues its work in Rwanda, Guatemala, Nepal and Peru this year. I just returned from Peru where we established a GBF subsidiary there. I was in Guatemala just a week ago where we confirmed our partnership with HELPS International as our distributor there.

GBF’s financial position is strong thanks to our hundreds of donors and the generous support of the Global Sustainable Electricity Partnership (GSEP). We just placed an order for nearly 7,000 lanterns to be shipped to Peru, where the demand is great. Having Duke Energy Peru as our partner there is a huge benefit.

As the price of solar lanterns continue to fall, more and more families can now afford light in their homes and a way to charge their cell phones without walking miles a week. More for-profit businesses are entering developing countries with schemes to provide lanterns to rural families at very competitive prices.  GBF doesn’t care how or under what circumstances families gain access to light and power, as long as they do!

Two thousand fifteen is shaping up to be an important year for GBF and the industry in general. Thanks again for your help.year for GBF and the industry in general. Solar lantern prices will continues to decline and demand for solar will increase. And organizations like GBF will continue to provide light for those who can least afford and access it.

Joe Hale

President

Global BrightLight Foundation

Lanterns arrive in Southern Nepal!

Today (June 15, 2014) I traveled far, possibly the most remote village I’ve ever visited – in Southern Nepal on the Indian border in the mountains (and it rained). The village is 100%  illiterate, has 33% infant mortality, and still experiences starvation during the 9 months when nothing grows – it’s almost like a stone age existence. There is very little interaction with  the outside world – but things changed today.

For the first time, the 85 families in this village (and this is a misnomer – the “homes” are spread out over a wide valley and side of a mountain) got access to reliable and clean light. Some homes are hours from others. Word got out that the lamps were coming today and everyone was there to greet us. They realized this was a monumental day for their village. As they approached the officials (us) to put their fingerprints on their acceptance form, they were so serious and nervous about the big step they were taking. Again, we changed lives today.

Also participating were Niraj Subedi, a friend of GBF’s and a former GSEP scholarship recipient who has been a great friend of GBF and who played a major role in making our project happen here. Another participant was Mr. Bishnu Gautam, a former tour operator in Nepal. Within 9 months in 2008-2009, Mr. Gautam lost his two sons in auto accidents – one 19 days after he graduated from the University of Oklahoma and the other in Nepal. Mr. Gautam decided then to change his life in order to honor the memory of his sons. He started a foundation to support the rural poor in Nepal. He chose the village where we were today, and his foundation has begun work to help the villagers build new homes for themselves. He’s a wonderful partner to have.

I know I use the word uplifting and gratifying quite a bit when I describe our work at GBF, but I don’t know how else to describe the impact we’re having and the feelings that impact generates. The look on a man’s face when, for the first time, he switches on light in his home for his family, and illuminates their faces – it just chokes you up. And then the family’s expression of appreciation is overwhelming, despite the language barrier. So it’s 5 hours back to Kathmandu tomorrow for meetings and then I start my journey home.

– Joe

Returning to Bweyeye

June 10, 2014

After a 4 /1 hour drive from Kigali, you turn the main road onto an impossibly rough, dirt, dusty, rutted road for the final two hour teeth jarring drive to the village of Bweyeye, perched atop a hill within spitting distance of Burundi and the Congo. Valens was driving and Ferdinand was interpreting for me.

After driving south from the capital of Kigali, the drive to Bweyeye is through the Nyungwe forest. Nyungwe is Jurrasic-like, with towering eucalyptus trees that scent the air. Black and white faced colobus monkeys watch curiously as we pass by. Waterfalls interrupt the lush green mountainsides, dotted with impossibly large ferns and banana leaves. Seriously, you expect a dinosaur around the next bend.

I first visited the village of Bweyeye in 2011 when we began our pilot for GBF. The hundred families in the village were given a solar lantern to test for 3 months. At that time, we took the model they had in exchange for another model that they would test for 3 months. At the end of the pilot, each family got a new lantern of their choice.

I visited again six months after our pilot and was embarrassingly greeted with shouts, hugs and a special song created for my visit.

Now it was two years later. I wanted to see how the lanterns were still operating and talk to the families about their experience having light in their homes for the first time.

Surprisingly, most of the lamps were still working. The ones which were not seemed to be the result of negligence or accidents, like inadvertently dropping them in water or dropping the panel in a rock. The villagers were still very appreciative to GBF do changing their village.  They talked of the joy of being able to visit with family and friends after sundown. They talked about how their children were doing better in school. And they also asked for more lights – for free. I explained our program and that sometimes a small sacrifice was necessary for things they want and need.

After we left Bweyeye, we took off for Kibuye, near the UNHCR Kiziba camp. The drive took 6 1/2 hours over the worst roads I’ve ever driven on – and that’s saying something! After we got out of the Nyungwe forest, we found the road along Lake Kivu. All of a sudden, the road just stopped and turned into a dirt path. This continued, up over mountains and down into valleys, for the next four hours.

We finally got to a hotel and crashed.

The next morning we met with the bright, energetic UNHCR staff and took off for the camp, which is situated about an hour out of town, hidden away in a valley – sort of out of sight, out of mind.  It’s where the Rwandan government has donated the land. There are four other camps like this in Rwanda.

Our lamps were distributed (in exchange for sweat equity you’ll recall – an ambitious tree planting program, volunteering in schools and on safety patrols, etc.) about two months.  While still too soon to be of statistical significance, the changes were amazing. I visited the health clinic and heard the doctors talk about the reduced number of visits due to respiratory problems. I visited the school and met with some of the most polite, articulate, bright students you are likely to find anywhere, and heard from the head teacher how test scores were beginning to improve.

Perhaps the most emotional moment for me was when I saw Farahah, the 18 year old woman who inspired me because of her commitment to create a better life for her little brother. They were orphans. She was shy to see me, but I thanked her for being such an inspiration and for playing a role in producing our video (that is being shown tonight in Kigali to a gathering of government and NGO and business folks.).

This was undoubtedly the most uplifting experience I’ve had since we created GBF. Talk about making a difference. It was just so evident.

Today Sam Dargen and I met with the Minister of Education and got great support and advice on how to proceed with a student light program in the country. We plan to attend the quarterly district education meetings around the country at the invitation of the Minister and talk about the advantages of solar to all the head teachers who attend these meetings. A huge step forward.

New lanterns for Guatemala

I spent yesterday (March 12, 2014) in the jungle of the mountainous region of Guatemala.  Richard Grinnell, COO of HELPS International and I started at 5 a.m. and drove 4 1/4 hours out of Guatemala City to Coban. From there we got in a truck and drove another hour and a half.  We then left the truck and walked to the village of Sejalal and visited eight homes of families who now have a solar light, a clean cook stove and a water filter.

Cook stoves and water filters in the homes are thanks to HELPS International, our wonderful NGO partner here in Guatemala. I witnessed transformed lives to be sure.   More time to farm and work. Better health. Fewer burns.  More studying.  And cleaner air.  I wish I could bring all of our donors here or to Rwanda to see the result of their donations.  In fact, I’m considering taking a group to Rwanda this summer.  Let me know if you’re interested.

Today I’m sort of waiting for my insides to explode because yesterday I foolishly yet politely ate and drank everything I was given as a guest in the rural families’ homes – from watermelon (filtered I was assured) water to chicken soup, which I drank and sweated through (spicy) while the surviving chickens ran around my legs under the table on the dirt floor. All eight families with whom we visited couldn’t have been nicer or more appreciative.  How can you turn down their hospitality?  Their one request when I asked if there was anything they’d like changed about the lantern?  They want an additional one and were willing to pay for it.

I have meetings with HELPS and a visit to another part of the country before heading home tomorrow. HELPS is a wonderful organization who has been working in Guatemala since 1984. They sell rural families clean cook stoves and water filter systems.  They are so pleased to now be able to offer these families solar lanterns, too.  This is exactly the type of partnership we’ve envisioned. Piggybacking on an in-country NGO’s existing work.  Their COO Richard Grinnell had an American father and a Guatemalan mother.  His older two children are at Lehigh.  He straddles both cultures well and really gets what we’re trying to accomplish and sees the synergies with our organizations.  HELPS has been around since 1984 and is based in Dallas, Texas.

I should have a draft of our revised business plan to send you in a few weeks.  I needed to have these face-to-face pricing and structural discussions with HELPS to plug in the correct numbers and goals.  The goals I present to you will be rather aggressive.

-Joe