Christian Aid helps launch solar lighting project in India

By agency reporter
February 10, 2011

UK based churches' international development agency Christian Aid has teamed up with solar lighting specialist d.light design to launch an innovative microfinance project that will bring solar lighting to more than 4,400 socially excluded poor rural households in three Indian states during its first year.

The states of Jharkhand, Orissa and Chhattisgarh have the worst rural electrification track record in India and this will be the first time Christian Aid, working with d.light and three local partner organisations, has introduced the use of solar lanterns to its work, empowering local communities who otherwise would not have access to light.

Christian Aid has provided funding for the first 2,500 lanterns and will work with its Indian partners to identify young people to become 'rural entrepreneurs' who can manage the distribution and finance alongside a network of women's self-help groups.

The partner organisations will work with the entrepreneurs to promote the technology within the villages, train them in financial management and ensure the sustainability of the project. The self help groups will collect orders from villagers and supply the solar lanterns on credit, charged at 12 per cent annual interest over 10 months.

This interest will cover the administrative costs of the scheme and allow money to be reinvested in new stock which will be purchased directly from d.light, eventually making the whole project self sustaining. D.light will supply the lanterns and train the rural entrepreneurs in customer education, battery replacement and sales and demand generation.

The project will begin in Jharkhand, where it will reach 4,400 households, and subsequently move on to Orissa and Chhattisgarh within a year.

The benefits of solar lighting are many and d.light produces the world’s most affordable quality solar lanterns. All d.light lamps offer an extremely affordable source of lighting to people who are off-grid, reduce carbon dioxide emissions given off by traditional kerosene lamps and reduce incidences of burns, fatal fires and respiratory deaths caused by burning kerosene in an enclosed space.

Richard Ewbank, Climate Change Programme Coordinator at Christian Aid said: "Linking-up with d.light in India is very exciting and key to growing Christian Aid’s work on renewable energy, both in India and across the developing world. Solar lighting is often the first step in developing a more comprehensive decentralised renewable energy approach that can meet not only domestic energy needs but also support small-scale enterprises. For an organisation which campaigns on climate change issues this project is an important step in demonstrating that countries such as India can meet some of their energy needs both cleanly and inexpensively."

The majority of people living in Jharkhand, Orissa and Chhattisgarh are socially excluded communities, mainly minority ethnic and caste groups known as Adivasi and Dalits respectively. On average these communities have a family income of less than 200 rupees per month, meaning they are unable to afford the 549 or 1699 rupees that d.light’s models usually retail for in India.

It is for this reason that Christian Aid has worked with d.light to develop a financing mechanism that will allow poor communities to leapfrog the grid and move straight to solar lighting, the agency says.

In a country where almost 45 per cent of households have no access to electricity, kerosene lamps are favoured because they are cheap to buy, but they are expensive to run. A survey at the beginning of the project revealed that on average families spend between 50 and 90 rupees a month on kerosene for lighting. This project aims to reduce family monthly expenditure on lighting by 50 per cent, increase family incomes by 20-30 per cent and reduce CO2 emissions by 10,000 tonnes.

Alongside this project Christian Aid will empower its local partners, with support from the Ashden Collective, to undertake civil society advocacy work to promote sustainable and clean energy for poor and excluded communities.

Sam Goldman, CEO of d.light, said: "We are excited to partner with Christian Aid in India on this innovative distribution mondel. Utilising microfinance and rural entrepreneurs will enable us to serve hard-to-reach poor families in rural India. With our shared expertise and commitment to excellent service, I am confident that we can make a significant positive impact to the lives of thousands of households."

Christian Aid began working on this project with d.light after the company won the India Category of the Ashden Awards, sponsored by Christian Aid, in July 2010.

Christian Aid works in some of the world's poorest communities in nearly 50 countries. The agency declares: "We act where the need is greatest, regardless of religion, helping people build the lives they deserve."

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