Not only that, but if you buy one online you can pay extra and buy one for the gipper in Gambia or somewhere nearby, thereby getting light and spreading it.
This is good and someone gets to go for heaven for this. But in the long run it’s really, really bad. Here’s why.
The Talmud said it is not enough to give a man a fish, you have teach him how to fish. My Talmud - and you only have to go to the iBreakfast temple to get this - says that you really have to create a fishing economy. That way, they learn to fish, people learn to eat all kinds of seafood (not just kosher), others get to sell, distribute, store, prepare and maybe export the good stuff.
Sophisticated African leaders talk about this all the time as “sustainable development.” Instead of taking a World Bank loan, paying off a bunch of indunas and building a smelting plant that no one can really sustain while the country winds up saddled with debt, you develop things the locals can fully engage with and develop. The same seems to apply to education, many are educated for Western professions that barely exist out there.
So, back to the flashlight. With LEDs and free solar energy the product is pretty sustainable, so what’s wrong with this picture. The answer is there is not a solar economy. They should be making these flashlights in
Bottom line: unless the receivers of our largesse - those local villagers - are engaged, this is just the old paternalism dressed up in new technology. Good ideas must sing and dance with the villagers in order to sustain change. That’s why the microloaners are so much to be admired - they actually require the villagers to engage with each other in all kinds of community-sustaining ways.
Read the full article in the NY Times.
You can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. It's doubtful that Africans will ever have a comparitive advantage in flashlight manufacturing. Therefore they shd do things they can do better. At this stage in development, agriculture and resource extraction are better prospects. For example, rather than wasting billions growing corn for ethanol in the Northern Hemishpere, we shd help Africans build a biofuels industry based on cane and palm oil. Solar energy is one of Africa's major resources. They should exploit it -- with flashlights and tropical agriculture.
I agree with Alan that it would be better to help them build solar flashlights; I don't think it would require a huge capital investment.
They absolutely do have comparative advantages in solar flashlight manufacturing: (a) a ready nearby growth market (b) a very inexpensive labor pool (c) very inexpensive land and (d) a lot of sunlight.
Alan's article reminds me of Jamaica. I couldn't believe that with about 40% of their population jobless, standing around in village squares, they were exporting precious bauxite. They should be processing that bauxite into aluminum and fashioning aluminum products for home and for export consumption, creating enough jobs to put almost all the unemployed to work.
You should have a look at www.solar-aid.org we are a relatively new charity encouraging business in Africa around the Solar industry. We show people how to convert widely available kerosine lanterns into LED powered ones. These are then sold, rather than given away.
I'm driving from London to CapeTown early next year raising money for SolarAid, follow my journey at www.overlandinthesun.com
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