SociaLite Lighting Systems

Engineering for the Middle of Nowhere

Explainer Video

In 90 seconds, Sam Burton and Ruby Hankey present a beautiful overview of SociaLite Lighting Systems.
[Graphics: Sam Burton; Voiceover: Ruby Hankey; Script: Nicola Burton & Ruby Hankey.]


Founded in 2017, SociaLite Lighting Systems works to increase awareness of, and alleviate light poverty by developing and installing solar powered micro-grid systems. We actively seek and work with impoverished, marginalized, forgotten communities living in remote locations without access to modern infrastructure, now struggling to accommodate climate change. With light and communication come education and the possibility of breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty.


The organization emerged from a 2006 first-year engineering class at The Cooper Union in New York City who were challenged “to work with the poorest of the poor and design a lighting system to address their real needs.” Over the past 14 years, working directly with our local mentors and hundreds of members in nine communities throughout Ghana and Rwanda, we have developed and proven an engineering methodology and design philosophy to yield systems that function in the middle of nowhere, are locally run, robust, self-sustaining and affordable. Requiring nothing but community enthusiasm and the shade of a tree, people are taught to assemble, install, operate and maintain these systems. Through this, emerge opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship—from the establishment of supply lines to regional organization.

Current Goal

Our initial design for portable lanterns sharing a community charging station, has evolved into a versatile community resource with facilities for lantern and cell phone charging, video projection and high-power audio—the mobile equivalent, placed on a locally-built, hand-pulled cart able to easily traverse the most rugged terrains and function in all weather conditions, serving multiple, closely-spaced communities. Our typical micro-grid comprises a box containing a lead acid battery, charge controller, charging outlets for up to twelve cell phones and twelve lanterns, an audio amplifier, two loudspeakers, a pico projector and a 100W PV panel.
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We seek funding to install these facilities in up to 250 “forgotten" communities throughout Ghana and, in so doing, share our design methodology to inspire others with greater resources to power these same communities the world over. We will also realize our dream of installing systems in clusters of communities, working with them to create the support structures necessary to operate and maintain these systems on a much larger scale.

With the engineering aspects of the project resolved, we continue to innovate and evaluate operational practices and payment schedules. Central to our path forward is the exploration of new models of ownership and accountability that accommodate rapidly evolving societal norms and greater mobility. Active community engagement, responsibility and ownership remain key to success but present the largest challenge in the long term.