Illac Diaz and lighting up communities
Most Filipinos, especially those who take interest in social entrepreneurship, are familiar with Illac Diaz. He is the founder and executive director of Liter of Light, a social enterprise that seeks to extend light access to millions of Filipinos and people around the world without enough of it.
Since light access can be an abstract problem, Diaz is quick to explain what it means to the average person.
“Light is access to education. Light is being able to spend more quality time with your children. Light is being able to educate yourself more,” he said. “For women, when we light up villages, we have 70% reduction in crime.”
Solar energy reinvented
Liter of Light primarily distributes an open source bottle light that can light up homes and neighborhoods in communities that do not have access to electricity. This solution is made from the simplest of parts – a plastic bottle, water, and chlorine.
Diaz and his team chose to distribute this solution over all the other possible ones that they could have championed. According to Diaz, the problem with current solar technology is that it is designed to break.
“The batteries break, the parts will break, and you cannot find them,” he said. This is planned obsolescence, and a common part of many industries.
A major issue is getting the technology into the Philippines in the first place. Diaz said that following a disaster in the Philippines such as a typhoon, when light access is most crucial, it is difficult to get what a community needs. According to him, you cannot just call up a factory in China or India and ask for 1 million units immediately. They will have a turnaround time of at least several months for orders that large.
Diaz said that 70% of every peso or dollar is spent on logistics. This is problematic because this means that the capital is not going into the product, which results in inferior quality. This is especially an issue with lights.
“That's a serious concern because by the time it gets here, it's crappy light, basically cut down in the quality and parts,” Diaz said.
These lights also have issues with longevity and may not even provide enough illumination for some tasks, such as reading.
'Year of the Light'
Diaz sees the liter of light as the solution to these issues. It uses parts that are widely available in any community, can be repaired with basic knowledge, and can be used as a livelihood. “That is the future of solar in this country,” he said.
In a span of two years, Liter of Light has helped build 150,000 solar lights. Diaz said that the best part is Liter of Light does not patent the technology and releases it open source.
Diaz said making the technology open source taps into the inherent resourcefulness of people, particularly Filipinos. He said that he has seen them make several modifications on their basic design.
“The genius of the poor is such an amazing thing. You think you're the inventor – you're not. You put in a little bit. You teach them how it's done. When you come back, it's totally reinvented,” Diaz said of the modifications that he has seen of Liter of Light products.
The open source model has helped Liter of Light extend access to not only the Philippines, but all over the world. It will also help Diaz achieve his ambitious plans for 2015, which has been marked as the Year of the Light.
Diaz also shared he is going to Egypt this month to help light 60 communities in the country.
“And guess what? I've never met the guy who did it. All I did was transfer the circuits online and how to build it, and today he has lit up 60 communities.”
Liter of Light’s work has earned it the Zayed Future Energy Prize, which is said to be the Nobel Prize for the clean energy world. This is part of what Diaz wanted to achieve through Liter of Light: He wants to show that Filipinos can be innovators and social entrepreneurs.
“We're one of the largest donor-recipients in Asia. But have you ever heard of Filipinos being benefactors? Have we actually given back? Liter of Light, in a way, was my dream to have a group of Filipinos that would make the greatest solar revolution in the world and be the benefactor,” he said. – Rappler.com
Rappler Business columnist Ezra Ferraz brings you Philippine business leaders, their insights, and their secrets via Executive Edge. Connect with him on Twitter: @EzraFerraz