Demitrios “Demi” Bukas was an unemployed carpenter living in a small house in Laguna, Philippines. While searching for a useful way to occupy his time, he learned that if he took a two-liter plastic soda bottle, filled it with water and a little bit of bleach, and nailed it to a corrugated tin roof, he could provide a 35 square meter home with the same amount of light as provided by a 55-watt light bulb. What’s more, he could do it by reusing or recycling materials that people normally throw away.
What started out as one man’s work became the mission of an entire nation through 1 Liter of Light, a program created to encourage and support social entrepreneurship and provide sustainable energy to the urban poor. In a country such as the Philippines, which has one of the highest electricity-use rates in the world, this simple solution is making a difference in the lives of tens of thousands of people who can now focus on using their limited resources to pay for other vital expenses, such as food or education. The project not only benefits those who now have light. It also provides employment opportunities to local carpenters, trash collectors, and even city penitentiary residents who embrace the work and have come to see it as fulfilling their responsibility to help others in need.
The Solar Bottle Bulb used by 1 Liter of Light is based on the concept of Appropriate Technologies – innovations that use readily available materials and simple carpentry skills to create inventions that are easily replicable in the developing world. Instead of relying on prescriptions for sustainability from industrialized countries, these technologies enable locals to address critical issues in their communities and encourage sustainability from the ground up.
Harvard Kennedy School alum Illac Diaz, the founder of MyShelter Foundation and the 1 Liter of Light project, quickly realized just how powerful the Solar Bottle Bulb could be when other countries from around the world began to request instructions on how to build and install these Solar Bottle Bulbs in their own communities. The project now has partners in Peru, Colombia, Indonesia, India, and Switzerland, and is initiating projects in places such as Spain and Kenya. By embracing social media and the philosophy of open-source technology, in the past year 1 Liter of Light has grown from lighting up 10,000 homes in the Philippines to providing solar power to communities around the world.
The United Nations, which proclaimed 2012 the year of “Sustainable Energy for All”, recognized 1 Liter of Light’s contribution by selecting it as one of ten lighthouse projects that will be featured during the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro this June. On the road to Rio, MyShelter Foundation organized a series of events in Boston and New York – including a volunteer service project with current HKS students and a “Walk for Light” – to raise the project’s profile within the United States. The Foundation plans to use the Earth Summit as an opportunity to engage with other thought leaders and innovators to help 1 Liter of Light impact more people in more places around the world.
Update: Illac Diaz and 1 Liter of Light spoke to Rio Matters at the Rio+20 summit. Click here to read about their experience and see photos from their trip.
Ami Valdemoro is a Class of 2013 Master in Public Policy student at the Harvard Kennedy School.