01/30/2015 12:50 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Impact Investor Global Partnerships Invests in Solar to Connect the Poor With Light

To this day, an estimated 1.3 billion people do not have access to electricity. That is over a billion people who struggle to refrigerate their food and medicine, study at night to further their education, or charge their mobile phones. Electricity is crucial to human well-being and development, and lack of access to it is a huge barrier to overcoming poverty in the developing world.

One impact investor thinks they can address this need in a market-based way. Global Partnerships, a nonprofit impact investor based in Seattle, invests in social enterprises that manufacture and distribute solar lights to people living in developing areas of the world. Peter Bladin, Chief Impact and Research Officer at Global Partnerships, explains that their solar investments are intended to get high quality products that have the most impact at the household level into the hands of the people that need them. Given the affordability and ease of use of solar lights, Peter believes "solar lights for poor people living off the grid are likely to scale the way cell phones have in the developing world over the last 15 years. The products are high-quality, prices are coming down and there are a variety of business models, including pay as you go financing, which will make these products accessible to even the most impoverished."

Un-electrified communities often rely on kerosene lamps which can be very costly and dangerous to use. Solar lights are a better alternative since they do not have toxic emissions and use a renewable energy source that is cheaper and more sustainable than kerosene lamps and candles. However, challenges remain in connecting poor, rural communities with solar lights. Peter explains, "The case for solar is extremely compelling but social enterprises serving the base of the pyramid need working capital to scale product development, manufacturing and distribution."

To address the distribution challenge and help fulfill the demand for more affordable energy products, Global Partnership invested in Greenlight Planet, a social enterprise that manufactures and distributes high quality, affordable solar lights to the rural poor around the world. Greenlight Planet manufactures one of the best quality solar products in the market, and remains focused on their mission to provide affordable solar lights to people living at the base of the pyramid. Danny Stokley, Director of Business Development at Global Partnerships, asserts, "Partnering with GLP will help get more high quality solar lights into local distribution channels, increasing the supply of products that make a tremendous impact at the household level." This means more families living in poverty will have access to affordable solar lights that can help improve their quality of life.

A fruit seller illuminates his business at night using a small SunKing Pro solar light, which is manufactured and distributed by Greenlight Planet, a partner of Global Partnerships.

Peter Bladin affirms, "We believe that making those technologies accessible will empower families to have more opportunities to study and be productive, and ultimately, have a better quality of life." In addition to their investments in solar, Global Partnerships also invests in social enterprises that support microentrepreneurship, health services and rural livelihoods. To date, the organization has deployed $141.6 million to 74 social enterprises. Global Partnerships aims to grow their impact investments to $500 million and increase their reach from 2.6 million lives impacted to 30 million lives impacted by 2024. To learn more about Global Partnerships, click here.