An ActivSpaces Story: Old Technology, Contemporary Art

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23 Apr 2013

Our journey with WakaWaka Light started months ago when we came across the innovative solar lamp by serendipity in the small mountain town of Buea. It was immediately clear how much this device could impact our community socially, economically and environmentally. Thus the campaign to bring in a clean, sustainable domestic lighting solution to Cameroon began. We met with challenges right off the bat: coming up with finances to acquire and distribute our first order; a miscalculated delivery that set us back several months — you name it. But through the support of some silent heroes and the goodwill of the community, we managed to successfully run a pilot market.

A silent hero helped us get the WakaWaka solar lamps to Cameroon and “stamped” an impression in our hearts :)

Proposing Value
Old habits die hard. As amazing as clean energy is, it was no easy task convincing some of the rural people of Lysoka to put aside their kerosene lanterns and take up a solar lamp. From their perspective, kerosene lanterns have withstood the test of time; something they are not sure these feeble-looking, plastic solar lamps will.

But the facts are clear: kerosene lanterns are not environmentally friendly, their toxic fumes are personally unhealthy, they present physical danger, and they are uneconomical. Villagers spend on average $48 per annum refueling their lanterns with kerosene. This alone is more than twice the price of one of WakaWaka Light’s solar lamps.

Introducing WakaWaka to school teachers in Lysoka

Painting a Revenue Model
During our pilot, solar lamps were sold at the cheapest possible — $20. However, when 25% of the pilot market cried out that units were too expensive, we decided to test how eager they really were for a clean technology solution. We told the people of Lysoka that we would agree to a 50% reduction in price if they threw in their “bush lamps” as well. To our surprise, our pilot came to an end and the (red) balance sheet had a dozen old kerosene lanterns on it.

We took a little background information on the people that gave us their old kerosene lanterns, trying to keep a picture of how that lantern had influenced their lives. A few days later, by serendipity again, we stumbled upon a young artist who had grown up at an orphanage a few miles away from Lysoka. We decided to give the old “bush lamps” to him, trusting his appreciation of a kerosene lantern, and hoping he could help us make a statement about clean technology.

Factoring in Key Partners
Several weeks later, the first pieces in the “Ornament of Darkness” art collection were ready. We’re now hoping to identify our key partners interested in this story; in not only bringing clean technology to the world, but taking toxic technology out; in owning contemporary art made out of old technology from the heart of Africa. In our interactions with a variety of partners during the 48 Lamps campaign, we realized that we could do more than sell solar lamps. We could recycle what was once a toxic instrument into a work of art, capturing its essence while destroying its former vices.

The short e-book will be launched on May 10th.

The Next Iteration
On May 10th we’ll be launching the short e-book “Bush Lamp: Ornament of Darkness” that documents many of our discoveries during the 48 Lamps campaign and catalogs Silas Tabi’s latest pieces of art. We’re also preparing for a larger order of WakaWaka solar lamps that will impact several more regions and hopefully produce more art. We’re inviting you to join us on this journey.

Contact us concerning inquiries about how you can support us with the solar lamp distribution or about Silas Tabi’s “Ornament of Darkness” collection.

Al Banda

Posted by Al Banda

Al is a business strategist and community manager for ActivSpaces. A third culture kid, he lives to bridge gaps between technology, infrastructure and culture. Follow him on Twitter @TribeOfLions

About this blog

This blog is a resource for news, project updates, member profiles and community events at ActivSpaces, an open collaboration space, innovation hub and startup incubator for African techies. Based in Buea, Cameroon.

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