122, Sam Goldman, d.light | Affordable and Clean Energy for the Developing World

d.light provides access to reliable, affordable and clean energy solutions to the two billion people in the developing world without access to reliable energy.

Both of Sam Goldman’s parents for the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Sam lived in several countries in Africa before he reached elementary school. He attended elementary school in Pakistan, middle school in Peru and high school in India. Dinner table conversations focused on child nutrition and improving farm efficiency. “I knew I wanted to link social impact with the environment and have a double bottom line wins,” he told me. “To do that, I needed to understand, for the poorest people in the world, what’s the life really like and what solutions do they really need?”

In order to learn more about the lives of the poor, Sam joined the US Peace Corp and traveled to the West African country of Benin. He worked for several years in a remote village without roads, running water, electricity or telephone connections.

As Sam lived in this remote village, he watched the slow, painful process of philanthropic work. During that same time, he watched as computers, access to the internet and the availability of new foods, transformed the country. As the country was transformed, Sam’s thinking changed. “In three years I went from ‘I’m anti-capitalist’ to ‘The only way we’re going to make this the world we want to live in, where people have equitable opportunities and the environment is saved, is if we harness the power of capitalism, but we do it in the right way.’”

While living in this village, there were a few incidents that really drove home the importance of simple electrical devices in raising people out of poverty. In one incident, the son of his neighbor was burned over most of his body because of a kerosene lantern. On another night, while carrying a kerosene lantern and entering his house, Sam was bitten by a snake. The bite shocked him so much, he dropped the lantern which immediately went out, leaving him in the dark with the snake. For much of the night, he and the local people believed that the snake that had bitten him was the deadly black mamba. Though it turned out that the snake was harmless, the experience helped cement in Sam’s mind the importance of a simple LED light.

This experience compelled Sam to return to school for his MBA. He made his way to Stanford University and to the course “Design for Extreme Affordability,” which is part of Stanford’s well-known d.school. It was in this class that he met co-founder Ned Tozun. Together, they developed the initial prototype solar lantern. In homage to the d.school, they called their first product and the company to follow, d.light. d.light’s first commercial solar product appeared on the market in 2008.

Today, d.light’s products have touched the lives of over 65 million people worldwide. 17 million school-aged children have used their products to study later into the night, often improving their educational outcomes. Their products have allowed their customers to save over $5 billion in energy expenses, mostly the cost of kerosene. They have offset millions of tons of carbon dioxide.

Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Sam Goldman

“Energy is the most transformative thing we can provide people to change their lives.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘To us, it’s an energy ladder.’ @SamWGoldman, @dlightdesign”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘The model has always been, let’s make a product and have people buy it.’ @SamWGoldman, @dlightdesign“]

“Even on an eight-dollar product, we have a two-year, no questions asked warranty.”

“We had to structure our distribution and our product strategy around a brand strategy.”

“One of the misperceptions we have in the west is that consumer societies exist everywhere.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘We had to build a brand which stands for high-quality, reliable, low-risk solar.’ @SamWGoldman, @dlightdesign“]

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘We’re playing a 20, 40, 50 year game, not a 5 year sales game.’ @SamWGoldman, @dlightdesign“]

“My ultimate goal is that everybody in the world could have the same quality of life, in terms of the things driven by energy, as I do.”

“I want to be at a place where every second of every day, 24 hours per day, 365 days per year, one or more lives is being fundamentally changed by d.light.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘You have to want to scale.’ @SamWGoldman, @dlightdesign“]

“The real secret to scale, I think is, you want to do it, you put into place the rough organizational structure to do it, and then you just hire amazing people, and they’ll get it done.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘Scale begets scale as success begets success.’ @SamWGoldman, @dlightdesign“]

 Social Entrepreneurship Resources:

About the Author
Tony Loyd is a TEDx speaker, podcast host and the author of Crazy Good Advice: 10 Lessons Learned from 150 Leading Social Entrepreneurs. He is a former Fortune 500 executive with extensive experience in strategic planning, talent management, and leadership development. Tony is the host of the podcast Social Entrepreneur where you can hear the stories of changemakers who are making an impact on the world.

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