Beacon Program: Creating Women-Owned Businesses Selling Solar Lanterns

Beacon Program: Creating Women-Owned Businesses Selling Solar Lanterns

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$100,000 - $250,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Increasing the entrepreneurial capabilities of women by helping them create sustainable businesses selling a solar technology to replace kerosene lighting. These women are offering a healthy and sustainable lighting solution to their communities while generating profits to expand their business, support their families, and send their children to school.

About You
Koinonia Foundation
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Section 1: About You
First Name


Last Name


Section 2: About Your Organization
Is your initiative connected to an established organization?


Organization Name

Koinonia Foundation

Organization Phone


Organization Address

128 Coldbrook St. NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503

Organization Country

, MI, Kent County

How long has this organization been operating?

1‐5 years

Your idea
Country your work focuses on

, XX

What makes your innovation unique?

The Beacon Program helps women start small businesses selling a solar technology called the K-Light. The K-Light was developed to replace fuel-based lighting after seeing the ubiquity of kerosene lighting during work in Rwanda.

Developed by the for-profit company Pan's Innovative Science and Technology (PiSAT), the K-Light is a portable power source that acts as a lantern, flashlight, and cell phone charger (with specially-designed cell phone charger and tips). It has a patented circuit board, which was specially designed for maximum energy-efficiency. It was designed to last for 10 years with daily use: its NiMH battery lasts 3,000 charges, and its 16 LEDs last 100,000 hours. At full charge, the K-Light provides 20 hours of light on low power (8 LEDs) and 10 hours of light on high power (16 LEDs). It is lightweight and easily portable. It is water resistant and has rotating carrying handles so that it can be positioned at 12 different angles.

The women work together in a registered cooperative to sell the K-Light. The Koinonia Foundation grants each woman in the program an initial 6 K-Lights as the capital to begin her business. The Foundation also supports the women with business training so that they have the knowledge to sustain and grow their business. The women can return and purchase additional K-Lights on consignment at a price slightly above cost from a company in Rwanda. The women can also choose additional products of their choice to sell, which they base on their assessment of community needs.

Do you have a patent for this idea?


Tell us about the social impact of your innovation. Please include both numbers and stories as evidence of this impact

The Beacon Program is in its pilot stage and has been operating for less than 1 year. To date, the women have written cooperative rules; developed an executive and audit committee; started a bank account; rented a storefront on a street with high foot traffic; and expanded the program to 30 more women (chosen by existing members). The first 20 women have received business training in accounting, bookkeeping, and marketing. The second group of 20 women will receive business training in June 2010 through a University of Michigan MBA student and a Rwandese business student.

Problem: Describe the primary problem(s) that your innovation is addressing

About 1.6 billion people worldwide do not have access to electricity. Many who do have access cannot afford the cost. Fuel-based lighting such as kerosene is a readily available alternative to electricity, and $35 billion is spent annually on these fuels. It is estimated that fuel-based lighting can absorb approximately 30% of the poorest households' disposable income (via Lighting Africa). In Rwanda, the cost of kerosene is 900 Rwf/liter ($1.60) - about $14/month for an average family.

In addition to continuous costs, fuel-based lighting contributes to indoor air pollution and is associated with respiratory and eye problems. It is also responsible for the emission of approximately 200 million tons of CO2 per year.

When faced with energy poverty, women and children suffer, because they are responsible for gathering energy resources. They are kept tied to household chores, leaving little time to participate in education, training, or business. As they are in the home, women and children are the ones exposed to the toxic fumes of fuel-based lighting. And when women have access to financial resources, they are more likely to benefit the lives of their children and families. We need to include women in the processes of economics and energy because these issues directly affect the quality of their lives.

Actions: Describe the steps that you are taking to make your innovation a success. Include a description of the business model. What might prevent that success?

The K-Light was developed to be a high-quality solar product that met the needs of those without a clean, renewable lighting source. The upfront cost of the lantern can be much for a poor family. To that end, PiSAT and the women in the Beacon Program are working on micro-loan options for customers.

Research in the lighting market suggests that if people buy a solar product that does not function to their expectations, they are less likely to buy another solar product. So, if people buy a less expensive solar product than the K-Light that is of lower-quality and does not perform to their expectations, that hurdle must also be overcome.

Results: Describe the expected results of these actions over the next three years. Please address each year separately, if possible

The Beacon Program is still in its pilot stage and has operated for less than 1 year. We do not have a set number of groups that we intend to start per year. Instead, we work with groups and branches to help them find and implement best practices to sustain and grow their business.

In the first one-three years of the program, the program will directly reach fewer than 100 women per year. Over the course of the next three years, we intend to spread into the Eastern Province, as well as into Butare, and further into Kigali. The Beacon Program has scale-up potential to reach farther into East Africa, as well. Within three years we plan to reach several hundred women, and many more people through their families and communities.

How many people will your project serve annually?

What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?

Less than $50

Does your innovation seek to have an impact on public policy?


If your innovation seeks to impact public policy, how?


What stage is your Social Enterprise in?

Operating for less than a year

Does your organization have a board of directors or an advisory board?


Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with NGOs?


Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with businesses?


Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with government?


Please tell us more about how partnerships could be critical to the success of your Social Enterprise

Koinonia Foundation has partnered with PiSAT so that the women are able to purchase the K-Lights at a reduced cost in Rwanda. Working with additional partners would increase distribution of the lanterns into other areas. The main goal is to get the K-Light out to people who need an alternative to fuel-based lighting. Partnering with other organizations could help both Koinonia Foundation and PiSAT accomplish that goal.

We would like to learn more about how your initiative is financially supported. Please explain your business plan/revenue model

Koinonia Foundation is a 501c3 nonprofit. The Foundation receives an operating grant to cover administrative expenses. This way, all funds raised from the public go to fund the Foundation's programs, including the Beacon Program. Koinonia Foundation also engages in fundraising activities to increase public awareness of the Foundation and its mission. Additionally, PiSAT donates a portion of its proceeds from K-Light sales to the Foundation to support its international projects.

The Story
What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?

On a project trip in 2005, Koinonia Foundation brought along an electrical engineer who planned and oversaw the installation of a solar power system at a school in Rushashi, Rwanda. On this trip, the engineer commented on the number of kerosene lanterns in use and how dangerous and inefficient they were. He had extensive experience in solar power and had previously developed a solar lantern, and he felt that there was a better solution to the lack of electricity than kerosene lamps. Following work with local stakeholders and many iterations of the product, the K-Light was developed.

The Koinonia Foundation's primary work was in enhancing education through the installation of solar power systems on schools and provision of computers. With the number of women-headed households in Rwanda and the costs associated with children's schooling, we figured that if women sold the lanterns, they could support their families and send their children to school while getting a source of clean energy out to their communities. That was the beginning of the Beacon Program.

Tell us about the person—the social innovator—behind this idea.

Doctors Dale Williams, Nicholas Pietrangelo, and Marty Graber worked with engineer Bill Greenhoe to develop the K-Light. Dale Williams started and ran the Muskegon Medical Center in Muskegon Heights, Michigan to bring low-cost health care to that population. During his career, he also worked abroad, including spending several months in Zaire (now Congo) following the genocide in Rwanda. That work led to the formation of Koinonia Foundation. Bill Greenhoe had experience as an electrical engineer working with batteries, solar, and LED lighting. These men then collaborated with Andrew Williams, president of Koinonia Foundation, to formulate the Beacon Program.

How did you first hear about Changemakers?

Social media (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn)

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