If you’re reading this, you’re one of the lucky ones.
Until today, 1 out of 6 people lacks access to any form of reliable electricity. Can you imagine living without electricity? No Netflix, no WiFi, no mobile phones, no light bulbs, nothing after sunset.
For most of you reading this, it would be impossible to even imagine a life like that – however, for 1.2 billion people around the world, this is their reality.
Two years ago, I had no idea about the scale of the issue of energy poverty, particularly in Africa. To me, electricity never felt like a privilege, but rather a basic need.
Growing up in the United Arab Emirates, having electricity, air-conditioning and WiFi were all essentials everywhere; so it never really occurred to me that I was genuinely blessed to have any of these privileges.
All of that quickly changed in October of 2017, when one of my university friends asked me to join his team competing at “The Hult Prize”. I had no idea what the Hult Prize was, at the time, but I’m the most competitive person I know. Throw in a potential trip to London for an Accelerator Program and a $1M pitch at the United Nations as a final prize, saying no was not an option.
Little did I know, this journey was about to change my life.
Fast forward to September 2018, hundreds of hours spent researching about energy poverty, a six-week accelerator program in London, and here I was on stage pitching U-Light at the United Nations headquarters in front of some of the world’s greatest organizations’ leaders.
It all felt unreal. I had just graduated from university back in May, and I would’ve never imagined the summer I was about to have.
Six weeks of intense work, learning, growing and socializing with young social entrepreneurs from all over the world. It might’ve been a competition, but everyone was fighting their own fights, and we all consequently wanted each other to win.
Be it bringing safe surgery to rural Africa, providing clean water in Pakistan, or building seaweed farms to help clean the environment in the United States – we all had the same common goal: to impact the lives of millions of people using energy.
It’s been a year since I got up on that stage and told the world our story.
The story of millions of children that drop out of school because they can’t cope with schoolwork nor afford to study at home.
The story of millions of people who miss out on twice as much income because their jobs end once the sun goes down.
The story of 4,000,000 premature deaths every year as a consequence of using kerosene gas for their energy needs. Our story was no longer ours alone, it was their story, and it still is.
You see, U-Light wasn’t born out of a new groundbreaking discovery or an unprecedented technology – it was born out of necessity. The fact that 1.2 billion people still have to rely on deadly kerosene gas, or go into crippling debts to afford solar energy was unacceptable.
Even as more companies attempted to democratize solar energy by creating more affordable options – their dependency on sunlight and clear skies continued to be another setback.
Everyone has the right to see their loved ones’ faces at the dinner table, every child has the right to read storybooks after dark, and every family has the right to go to sleep without worrying about dying to a kerosene accident or its toxic fumes.
When we started U-Light, we could’ve gone on any ‘trending’ energy source route, but we chose ours because it was realistically the most immediate solution. Allowing people to generate their own power supply, wherever they want, whenever they want, became our north star.
The idea that we could, with each unit we sell, allow at least 3 children to continue their education, empower a family to increase its income up to two times, and provide a safer household environment for that family became our obsession.
For months we went through 30+ prototypes, endless business models, sleepless nights, hundreds of pitch decks and ridiculous amounts of caffeine.
It all leads to that night at the United Nations, where we were 10 minutes away from securing $1M in seed funding – but we didn’t win.
As much as we were devastated, we decided to continue pursuing our cause because we really believed in our mission and potential impact.
Tonight, almost a year later, U-Light has a six-figure fund and we’re still working on bringing our human-powered energy solutions to West Africa, as we continue to play our part in the fight against energy poverty.
It’s crazy to think that just two years ago, my only concern was finding a job post-graduation and working for a big multinational firm so I can be a part of their story – yet here I am today, playing my part in a much more important story.
Co-Founder & CEO of U-Light