I am about 2/3 of the way through Rye Barcott’s excellent memoir “It Happened on the Way to War: A Marine’s Path to Peace.” One of the reasons that I use the adjective ‘excellent’ is because his book is one that inspires. His organization Carolina For Kibera (http://cfk.unc.edu/) is truly a grass-roots organization run BY the people of Kibera.
Well I am happy today to write about a US company that also inspires; a company that is literally lighting hearts and minds across Africa and the globe. That company’s name is SunNight Solar and they make and distribute highly-reliable, long-lasting solar-powered flashlights. SunNight Solar was started by a former Marine (see my previous blog post on what I think about Marines) turned entrepreneur (a bit redundant as Marines are the original entrepreneurs) that refused to accept that 2 billion people didn’t have light at night. You can read the company’s excellent position paper regarding the use of the flashlights in Afghanistan here (also available through a google search).
BOGO, the name of the flashlight, comes from “Buy One Give One” à la Toms Shoes (which by the way I love because when I wear them I feel like I am in one of those old Kung Fu films and act accordingly, much to the chagrin of my lovely and infinitely patient wife). So when you buy one of the flashlights ($30-60) you are given the chance to designate an NGO to receive the flashlight. When that NGO has enough flashlights in their ‘queue’ they are shipped out (these mass shipments save money and are efficient). I like this method because SunNight Solar doesn’t try to be an expert in determing the areas that receive the flashlights, instead they leave that to the pre-established NGO’s already doing the work on the ground. And I like these flashlights because their rechargeable batteries last for two years and the light itself lasts for something like 20 years; they are also environmentally clean and better for the users’ health (especially when compared with the ubiquitous kerosene lamps) . I also found it interesting that the technology that created the final version of these flashlights was actually done through a collaborative research effort similar to the one being used by NPS for their anti-piracy MMOWGLI game.
These flashlights represent an opportunity for you and I to help and make a real difference but also represent an opportunity for the United States to “win hearts and minds” in Africa preemptively before there’s a cause/need/conflict for us to intervene. I’d personally like to have the choice to donate flashlights through my CFC contribution. However, this might be difficult to implement since BOGO is a private-for-profit company (that happens to also be extremely generous). Incidentally though, you can designate CFK on your CFC contribution (#11016).
Finally, I included a plethora of links and articles that provide more background information on everything that I mentioned here.
Now, take 5 minutes and go to the BOGO light website and spend $30. One of my favorite lines from Barcott’s book is the following mantra: Talent is universal, opportunity is not. When you buy one of these lights, you will not only get a great flashlight, but you will be giving a child that lives in a village/shantytown/slum/tent a healthier life and you most importantly will be giving that child opportunity—the opportunity to read/study after the sun goes down, the opportunity to receive medical treatment when he/she needs it, ultimately the opportunity that we take for granted every time we walk into our home and flip that switch by the front door.
Rep. Steve Israel (D - New York) speaks on the floor of the House of Representatives about the State and Foreign Operations House Appropriations bill. Rep. Israel discusses the Solar Villages Initiative and the National Solidarity Programme in Afghanistan.
NOTE: CFK and BOGO aren’t connected—yet (I wrote on CFK’s FACEBOOK wall about the possibility of the two linking up).