SociaLite Lighting Systems

Engineering for the Middle of Nowhere

About

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.

Mission

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.

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.]

Current Activity

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Our initial design for portable lanterns sharing a community charging station, has evolved into a versatile community micro-grid with facilities for lantern, small power tool and cell phone charging, audiovisual entertainment, internet access, and the acquisition of health vitals. We also have a mobile equivalent that serves multiple, closely-spaced communities. The equipment is placed on a locally-built, hand-pulled cart, easily able to traverse the most rugged terrains in all weather conditions. Our typical micro-grid comprises 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 250W PV panel.

Thanks to a series of generous donations from individuals over the past three years and the award of a sustaining grant in September 2021 from the Wright-Ingraham Institute in New York City, we have finally been in a position to respond to system requests from eligible communities.

In January 2021, we installed our first updated system in Bulinjing in the Upper West Region of Ghana. Covid-19 restrictions had delayed system delivery and installation for approximately one year. Since then we have installed lighting systems in a further 10 communities, our first cluster in the Wa West District (see Media). Severe flooding, Covid and increasing levels of poverty and isolation have all contributed to a very challenging environment.
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In January 2022, we started work on installing systems into the first two communities in our Wa East District cluster. A further five communities are scheduled for the forthcoming two months.

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.