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Sunday, February 17, 2013

NexThought Monday:: Quetsol's dark days ahead - kinda

By Dan Shine

Happy Monday everyone,

Well, we embark on Week 2 without our fearless leader, managing editor Scott Anderson. But fret not, Scott is expected to return Thursday. Till then, NextBillion Health Care editor James Militzer and I will muddle on the best we can.

Truth be told, Scott did the best he could to prepare us for his absence. Still, last Monday morning as we got ready for the first day without Scott at the helm, I couldn’t help but feeling a bit like Robert Redford at the end of the film, “The Candidate” wondering “What do we do now?”

So when I heard what Juan Rodriguez, co-founder of the Guatemalan solar company Quetsol, was up to I could relate. I felt like I spent most of last week in the dark.

Today Rodriguez will enter a dark, windowless room and stay there till the venture raises $50,000 on the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo. (We at NextBillion think Rodriguez has improved on this fundraising idea.)

Quetsol needs the funding to launch a Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG) solar power kit. You can contribute here.

Rodriguez and Manual Antonio Aguilar left their coporate backgrounds to address one of the most severe roadblocks to development in their native Guatemala - a lack of access to electricity.

The two launched Quetsol in 2010 with the mission to provide sustainable energy solution to the 2.6 million Guatemalans who live with candles and kerosene instead of light. 

Within the first year, the team had developed and sold 1,000 solar power kits throughout Guatemala. To date, Quetsol has grown from three employees in 2010 to 14 in 2013, expanded its product offerings from a 10W kit to 30W and 75W kits, and distributed over 3,000 kits. 

With its new PAYG initiative, Quetsol expects to see sales increase by 1700%, distributing 100,000 kits and reaching over 505,000 people in the next five years.

I spoke with Michelle Fauber, development coordinator for Quetsol, about the fundraising quest.

NextBillion: Who came up with this idea? I’m guessing it wasn’t Juan Rodriguez.
Fauber: The dark room idea came from a brainstorming session. Here's the thing - 2012 was full of reminders of the utter stagnation of losing your access to power. Hurricane Sandy left so many without power (including my family), while around the same time an earthquake in Guatemala knocked out the power for several thousands. The feeling of being in the dark and not being able to simply switch on a light is an incredibly frustrating one, and we want to stress that there are 1.4 billion people in the world who live this every day, with 2.6 million of them here in Guatemala. So, we thought we should make Juan into some small symbol of that in any way we could. He was willing right away, surprisingly.

NB: How long do you think it will take to raise $50,000?
Fauber: We're anticipating around 6 days. If it is more, Juan stays! We'll be able to visit him at any point so that he can be sending out his emails via us and keep the work going.

NB: That’s a long time in the dark.
Fauber: While we haven't sorted out the details, we will be structuring in certain “rewards” and breaks for different goals met during the campaign. For instance, at $25,000 a 15-minute walk outside.

NB: How can we track how Juan’s doing?
Fauber: We'll be putting him on live stream throughout the process. Certaintly won't be the most exciting livestream ever done, but for what it represents, we think it is pretty important to share.

NB: How come you didn’t look to raise the money from a grantmaking organization, foundation or other donor source?
Fauber: A main reason that we went the crowdfunding route is because it is simply more personal. Sites like Indiegogo allow Quetsol to connect the contributors with the real, human faces that their money will be impacting. For me, the most important aspect of this whole campaign is that with each donation of $60 or more, every contributor will be able to sponsor a family’s solar power for designated periods of time. Contributors will receive a hand-made bracelet via a local non-profit that supports women artisans that will include a number engraved (representing the number of days of light that were donated). 

NB: Any final thoughts?
Fauber: We want this campaign to be about a larger movement for the solar industry. For these marginalized communities, the concept of a utility company is something abstract, non-attainable. We need to change that. Crowdfunding is an incredible way to communicate the more emotional big-picture, and slightly crazy ideas to other people in a way that traditional funding lacks. 

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