How do you turn a charity into a business ... and why would you?

From Global development | The Guardian Wed Jan 9 2013, 10:59:00

Solar lights can bring clean electricity to rural Africa. But is selling them - rather than giving them away - a good idea?

In Kenya, one can drive for hours at a time and see village after village with no electricity. One charity cannot solve the problem of power just as they can't solve many of Africa's other big challenges such as clean water, decent education, irrigation, medicine and food.

Like mobile phones in the past ten years, solar lights will only become ubiquitous when the private sector embraces them; when there's a value chain that incentivises everyone from a large scale importer in Dar es Salaam; to a shop-keeper in rural Zambia; and to everyone in between, including local handymen to fix them when they break or shop-keepers to sell spare batteries.

Which is why SolarAid, despite its name, has come to believe in a market based approach: selling solar lights, not giving them away. We quickly realised that we needed to commit to this approach and turn our charity project, SunnyMoney, into a social business. To encourage and stimulate the market; not undermine it with any well-meaning charity.

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