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Power Technology

CES 2015: WakaWaka Sheds Light On Technology, Profit, and Philanthropy (Video) 17

Camille van Gestel and co-founder Maurits Groen started solar-centric manufacturer WakaWaka with an explicit aim other than making money, though he's certainly not opposed to making some along the way. So it's not a non-profit, but van Gestel calls WakaWaka, which was named in a roundabout way after the Shakira song, a "purpose-driven company," with that purpose being -- no exaggeration needed -- to cast light on the world. They're doing just that, with the aid of recycled materials, low-power LEDs, and efficient solar cells. As a result, one of the portable light products that the group has created has become one of the most valued possessions among people displaced by the war in Syria, and more are lighting up villages in Haiti and elsewhere. I talked with Van Gestel at this year's CES, where the company's picked up a pair of CES Innovation Awards, and he has some advice for people who'd like to turn their technical skills to philanthropic endeavors, especially ones that involve hardware or technical infrastructure. Some of it can be summed up as "Spread the wealth, but don't do it for free." Between ongoing feedback gathered from users, a buy-one-give-one style distribution system, and requiring participation by recipients, he says WakaWaka has been able to reach people with their solar lighting products in a way that's much more valuable than just dumping hardware on them, and along the way has gotten a lot of feedback from the buyers whose purchases subsidize the company's non-profit activities. (Alternate Video Link.)

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CES 2015: WakaWaka Sheds Light On Technology, Profit, and Philanthropy (Video)

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  • I can't figure out if he's trying to be Fozzie Bear or PacMan.

    • I can't figure out if he's trying to be Fozzie Bear or PacMan.

      "waka waka," according to B. Kliban [], is one of the phrases said by cats.

    • I can't figure out if he's trying to be Fozzie Bear or PacMan.

      I forsee a trademark lawsuit by Mr. Bear as a result of this....

      • Yes, and we can look forward to hearing from Miss Piggy, Cookie Monster, Bert, Grover, and Yoda a the plaintiff's star witnesses.

  • not-a-non-profit (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Friday January 09, 2015 @02:50PM (#48777401)

    Why does the summary say "not a non-profit" as if that was a bad thing? It is far easier to change the world if you are making profits that allow your business to grow, invest, innovate, and hire capable people. Profit seeking capitalists have done a lot more to improve the world than non-profit do-gooders. Doing well while doing good, is not something to be ashamed of. It is something to be proud of.

    • by unimacs ( 597299 )
      I didn't take "not a non-profit" as a bad thing. It was intended to show another route to philanthropy.

      FWIW I believe there is a huge misconception about what constitutes a non-profit, - at least in the US. Non-profits can be large successful institutions that are funded through "fee for service" rather than donations. There is nothing that WakaWaka is doing that couldn't be done as a non-profit. One major difference is that a non-profit has no owners and no stockholders. Any revenue over and above opera
    • The problem is that profit is seen as the primary and sole focus for so many companies, to the detriment of other things (employees, environment, quality of product).
    • "making profits that allow your business to grow, invest, innovate, and hire capable people"

      By definition, revenue spent to "grow, invest, innovate, and hire capable people" is not profit.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    It was a gift. I've basically never used it but it's a pretty cool toy. One feature I like is hitting the power button multiple times changes the brightness. At the lowest setting is says a full charge will yield a day or two of light which I thought was neat.

  • by Paul Fernhout ( 109597 ) on Friday January 09, 2015 @03:13PM (#48777569) Homepage

    I've heard about for or five years. While this sounds like a good concept to save money and danger from kerosene lamps, what do people do then? Still, even with planned obsolescence, such systems may still be very cost-effective. But it seems to me there might be better battery technologies one could pick? If not, I hope some sort of battery replacement and recycling program is thought about.

    More on a related larger movement of design
    "Design for the Other 90 Percent: Innovating for the World's Poor" []

    Of course, EF Schumacher and the "Appropriate Technology" movement was doing this in various ways in the 1970s. []
    "Appropriate technology is an ideological movement (and its manifestations) originally articulated as intermediate technology by the economist Dr. Ernst Friedrich "Fritz" Schumacher in his influential work, Small is Beautiful. Though the nuances of appropriate technology vary between fields and applications, it is generally recognized as encompassing technological choice and application that is small-scale, decentralized, labor-intensive, energy-efficient, environmentally sound, and locally controlled.[1] Both Schumacher and many modern-day proponents of appropriate technology also emphasize the technology as people-centered.[2]"

    A website in this area: []

    Another organization (of many): []

    Another cheap way of getting some light indoors (but only during the day): []
    "Brazilian mechanic creates light bulb using water, bleach and a bottle
    Alfredo Moser's cheap and environmentally friendly invention is picking up steam in developing nations around the world. The 'Moser lamp' was picked up by the Liter of Light campaign and is now brightening 140,000 homes in the Philippines."

    BTW, extending the day using artificial light (which I'm not eager myself to give up) is still problematical in a few ways including for health reasons.

    On "Spread the wealth, but don't do it for free", it's important to remember that much of the wealth we enjoy in the West is due to cultural ideas that originated in Africa and the East (even things like the concept of "zero"). A lot of key minerals come from poor countries as well, where any wealth from their extraction got concentrated in a few hands. And there is a brutal history of slavery and genocide and colonialism underlying much of the unfolding and spread of Western "civilization". Look at the history of any, say, any currently materially poor African country and you will likely find a land that probably had (for their time) wealthy kingdoms hundreds of years ago that were taken over by European powers with most of people then driven into poverty and/or slavery and then eventually carved up into countries not respecting tribal and cultural boundaries which contributed to later warfare. Entrepreneurs may need to charge for things to make sustainable businesses in today's economy, but there are complex economic and political issues underlying great wealth disparities.

    The "Social Credit" idea is worth considering when accepting how so many things are essentially the common capital of all of human kind, and thus all humans in that sense have some claim on the fruits of anyone using that capital: []
    "Douglas disagreed with classical economists who recognised only three factors of production: land, labour and capital. While Douglas did not deny the role of these factors in production, he saw the "cultural inheri

  • by Darth Cider ( 320236 ) on Friday January 09, 2015 @03:40PM (#48777771)
    Gravity Light [] is cheaper. It won't charge phones but doesn't require a battery to provide LED light.

"Ask not what A Group of Employees can do for you. But ask what can All Employees do for A Group of Employees." -- Mike Dennison