Turning On The Lights


Solar lanterns offer affordable, high-quality lighting in developing countries. A number of organizations, including social enterprises, make solar lanterns available to rural households as an alternative to candles or kerosene lamps. One of the most successful of these organizations is Solar Sister.

Solar Sister, a social enterprise operating in Tanzania, Uganda, and Nigeria, is dedicated to eradicating energy poverty through the economic empowerment of women. In addition to economically empowering its women entrepreneurs, the business model of Solar Sister also cultivates sales networks built on trust in last-mile distribution methods.

While Solar Sister has previously conducted research regarding its many entrepreneurs, it has lacked information on its end customers. In 2016 a research team from Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship undertook survey research with Solar Sister to examine the effects of solar lantern use on users’ health, education, time allocation, household savings, income generation, and increased agency. The research team conducted a 53-question survey in more than 20 villages across five regions in Tanzania, with research assistants providing English-Swahili translation.

The survey’s findings demonstrate that solar lanterns’ effects on end users are far more comprehensive and far-reaching than providing light. With solar lanterns, students have a reliable, bright light to use for their studies and show significant improvement in their education.

Families are relieved of the damaging health effects from kerosene and no longer risk burns and home fires from kerosene lamps. Households experience financial benefits by ceasing the use of costly kerosene, growing existing businesses, and starting new businesses. Further, individuals have more time in their day due to increased lighting hours and elimination of travel time to obtain kerosene. Some solar lanterns do more than provide light: they can also charge cell phones. And all these benefits combine to create intrinsic changes in individuals’ sense of agency and power.

The data and stories presented here are intended to help illuminate the potential of solar lanterns to improve livelihoods in rural Tanzania and beyond.

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