04/01/2011 12:17 pm ET Updated Jun 01, 2011

Francis and the Light Bulb

Location: Liberia, West Africa.

Meet Francis, my former running buddy and security guard in Liberia. He's also one of the two billion people living in the vice grip of energy poverty -- without light, without heat, without a single electron of power. He was 7-years-old when he was ripped from his family, school, and community to fight in Liberia's diamond-fueled armed conflict.

My friend Rachel, who lives in Liberia, recently told me two bits of news about Francis. First, he has a girlfriend. Second, he has a light bulb. She added that the city of Monrovia, Liberia now has street lights, too. The good: light stimulates energy and enterprise, learning and more dynamic livelihoods. The bad: Francis' light bulb and Monrovia's street lights -- both powered by dirty coal -- form a piece of the 70 million tons of global warming pollution that are collectively dumped into our atmosphere.

We live on a young and urbanizing planet. What if every Francis (and Francoise) had a light bulb?

Meet Lesley Silverthorn, CEO of Angaza Design. She's got an idea: make clean and affordable electricity accessible to all. Angaza distributes a solar light specifically for the needs of those in the developing world. One of their products, called the SoLite, helps to end the unhealthy dependence on planet (and lung) polluting fuels.

Now, Lesley doesn't know my friend Francis, but her world-changing vision touches many just like him. And a new form of fundraising is here to bring them together. It's not fueled by mega donations and venture capital, but driven by thousands of ordinary people interested in funding change. And the phenomenon, called crowdfunding, has the potential to change the impact game, and more importantly for my purposes, the life of my running buddy.

Long-term, sustainable impact is what matters to Lesley and the Angaza team, and for them, raising $10,000 on a crowdfunding platform is a means to that end. From their pitch on 33needs, one of the crowdfunding platforms enabling thousands of people to pool their money together for good:

"You make an investment and enable us to manufacture these life-changing products. We sell our lights and chargers to NGOs, solar distributors, and directly to the customers. Families and businesses in the developing world are able to eliminate dim and dirty kerosene from their lives and lift themselves out of poverty. You get repaid and get to move on with life knowing you've directly enabled a family to have clean, bright light in their lives."

Economist Nicholas Stern estimates developing countries will need $100 billion per year by 2030 to meet the challenges of energy poverty. And Al Gore, Jonathan Lash (President of the World Resources Institute), and others have pressed the case for a "unified earth theory": an approach that links solutions to extreme poverty and the environmental crisis.

You want change? Here's the deal; the reality: We flat-out need a funding revolution to make any of this happen. Crowdfunding has the potential to revolution how we create and scale the impact we all need, but we need thousands of companies like Angaza and, importantly, millions of supporters and investors powering their growth.

And maybe I'm just being selfish here, but I'd love the revolution to start with Francis.