Right Light’s Big Step Into The Future

 

It is safe to say Right Light has achieved incredible success since its inception back in 2010. It was born out of the selflessness of individuals, with the sole purpose of doing good and helping to make the world a better place.

Sustainability has always been at the very core of Right Light and in all our operations, along with our social entrepreneurship values. We have created a business that is not only sustainable, but has had huge social impact in East Africa.

To this day we have created a network of over 200 entrepreneurs renting out over 1000 solar lamps every single day. This has greatly reduced the amount of kerosene used in the areas we work in, eliminating the serious threat it poses to everyone’s health.

Keldon

Given the size of our operations, we are starting to face challenges that are not necessarily beyond our capacities as students, but certainly require full-time dedication. This dedication will see the project scale up to become a fully-fledged business operating as its own entity.

I am therefore very happy to say that the project is being handed over to Wessex Social Ventures (WSV) – a social impact accelerator that specializes in building ideas and projects into sustainable social businesses. WSV brings together expertise from various social organisations, corporates and their experienced advisory team. This collaboration forms a network committed to using individual skills to accelerate businesses that create significant social benefit.

I would thus like to take this opportunity as the last Project Leader of this fantastic project, to thank all previous team leaders and team members for their hard work and incredible dedication that has gotten the project to where it is today! Nothing would have been possible without any of you, and don’t take this statement lightly! I would like you all to join me in wishing WSV good luck with Right Light, and keep a close eye on this project, as I am certain it will grow to achieve great things!

Andreas Ostrovsky
Right Light Project Leader
Enactus Southampton

A community solution to sanitation

With the launch of the SDGs, a far more ambitious and complete set of goals than the MDGs, we must think beyond designing bespoke solutions to address a single issue.

The world is a complex network of causes and effects, where any ‘cause’ can create multiple ‘effects’ across multiple systems. Society is constructed in this causal way. This is why the SDGs greatly impact one another, therefore in order to solve the SDGs in the most effective way, we need to implement solutions which tackle one SDG by solving another.

The problem of inadequate sanitation plagues 2.4 billion people around the world. It is an issue where a solution that can scale and be sustainable in communities living on less than $3 a day, has been elusive. Or so people have thought. In actual fact the solution has existed for years in one form or another, and it took a group of enterprising students from Enactus Southampton to piece the puzzle together.

The solution is simple, solve the need of an individual and thus incentivise them to solve the needs of their community.

After piloting this solution for 3 years, myself and my co-founder have forgone the traditional employment routes to set up Wessex Social Ventures (WSV) a vehicle to scale this and other social solutions.

How our solution works

A large proportion of communities facing this challenge are rural communities, where developing infrastructure is incredibly difficult and costly, thus the poor sanitation leads to the contamination of nearby water sources, agricultural land and livestock. However these communities being rural means they have an increased dependence on subsistence lifestyles. Our solution uses the local farming industry and the challenges it faces to create a sustainable solution.

Roots micro-enterprises build bespoke EcoSan toilets which replace pit latrines in accessibility, cleanliness and longevity. The toilets allow the collection and conversion of human waste into 100% natural fertilizer. The fertiliser is distributed to local farmers and can be used for everything from small crops to fish farming.

The entrepreneurs work together in cooperatives allowing them to specialise, they are then provided with a micro-finance loan to start the business. Working with local labourers they construct our multi-cubicle design in schools, providing permanent and hygienic facilities, which are proven to enhance learning environments. This is especially pertinent for young girls. One of the primary reasons for girls dropping out of school is a lack of privacy and discretion, particularly when there are no toilet facilities at all.

Additionally, many governments are imposing higher standards on schools. Many schools without the funding or support required to meet the standards are put at risk of being shut down, something we have seen in both Kenya and Zambia. The EcoSan toilets offer a sustainable solution that prevents school closure and delivers permanent sanitation at a fraction of the cost to governments and schools who fund pit latrine construction.

The solution is simple, build a hygienic toilet that allows waste to be collected and thus prevent environmental contamination, however it is the business that sustains and grows the impact. The revenue from selling fertiliser lifts the entrepreneurs above the local living wage. This means the entrepreneurs are dedicated to the delivery of the solution and provides a tangible incentive for maintaining and improving the hygiene and quality of the toilets.

The sale of the fertiliser not only provides an incentive, but also the capital required to maintain the toilets and to invest into the construction of new toilets to grow the entrepreneurs business whilst simultaneously improving the communities sanitation.

This solution has been piloted and continuously adapted for the past 3 years in 3 Kenyan communities. During which the fertiliser was as low as 20% the cost of artificial or animal alternatives and resulted in a 3x increase in crop yield on land previously using artificial fertilisers, which were expensive and too often fake. The entrepreneurs themselves were able to afford their children’s school fees and supply textbooks. To add context many schools have a textbook to student ratio of 1:5 or higher.

Replicating the success

After these incredible results the next challenge was how to replicate this micro-enterprise solution in more communities. For this we kept the same reasoning that birthed the solution. What need can we solve that will result in the replication of the solution and that can sustain a workforce?

We also identified the most important aspect of replicating these solutions was the relationship and understanding with the local community, something which takes years to build.

With these two issues in mind the answer became clear, social franchising to NGOs who already have the established relationships with communities and knowledge of local culture.

Raising donations is becoming increasingly difficult, sustainability of operations and solutions is a real industry need. Moreover, many NGOs employ hand-outs as a form of aid, this is not only expensive but unsustainable and creates the adverse effect of forming dependency cultures in communities, who become accustomed to the free products/services. To solve this need, we provide NGOs with training, ongoing support and a complete set of packs which detail everything required to set up these enterprises.  This change from hand outs to micro-enterprise creation significantly increases the impact of an investment, particularly as it is returned to the NGO through micro finance loan repayments.

“At WSV we aim to revolutionise the way we provide aid, through communities addressing their own local problems through sustainable businesses supported by a global network.”

For more information on the pilot project view the video presentation here.

Bradley Heslop FRSA
Director
Wessex Social Ventures

Bias

Before I start I would like to say that I do not have a background in psychology, what I have done is read about the subject, in particular Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, The Black Swan by Nassim Taleb and The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli which form the basis of my knowledge for this article. Beyond this I have simply opened my eyes to the bias around me. My hope is that this article will help you do the same.

Although this article is aimed primarily for international development organisations the effect of bias and ideas discussed here affect every individual and organisation.

So what is bias: by definition it is “an inclination or outlook to present or hold a particular perspective”. I prefer to describe it as: Every decision or idea you have is based on every decision, idea and interaction you have had. In other words your bias is the entirety of your past. For this reason there can be no un-bias decision as this would require an individual to have no past.
Now some among you may be thinking “what about when the decision has no links to anything in your past”, at this point your mind may think you are un-bias, in reality you are unconsciously using your life’s experiences and knowledge to derive an answer. Which is bias.

If everything is bias then what is the point? The aim of this article is to make you aware of some types of bias that can have a significant influence, put a name to them and hopefully create a higher awareness in your decision making process.

So let us look at some examples starting with the ‘confirmation bias’ for no other reason other than it is known as the mother of all misconception. It is the tendency to unconsciously twist information so that it fits pre-existing theories. This is extremely prevalent in situations when emotions are involved, let us use the example of identifying a community for a charity to work in. If the person identifying the community has visited there, then you may often hear “I have seen how bad it is with my own eyes”. Which if you think about it is not a comparison between that and a different community but simply confirmation bias at work, changing the importance of that community to fit your desire to help that community.
This also links in with ‘personification’ your minds inclination towards emotion and action associated with a person or personified character rather than facts and numbers. Personification is one of the most common bias used in social sector advertising and advertising in general. Think about an advert you have seen from a charity… What is it that springs to your mind? Statistics and figures about that need? Or is it a child’s face staring back at you? Now, stop and really think about what is more important, that is the power of personification.

The Black Swan focusses primarily on the probability of rare events with dire consequence (‘black swans’) and how we fail to predict them before they occur and how afterwards we rate the probability of them happening much higher, ‘hindsight bias’. Now imagine as a social organisation that you are working somewhere and you are investing in that community. Infrastructure, housing, what would it take for that all to be wiped out by a war, tsunami or other natural disaster? Although you may have taken a moment to consider these, did you ever look at the probability of these occurring?
Continuing along the same train of thought there is a strong tendency to not recognise the multiple causes of a problem (in the case where it isn’t a black swan) and more often than not to try to attribute a problem to a single cause ‘the fallacy of the single cause’.

The majority of social sector organisations will say their biggest issue is cash flow, for that matter this is the biggest issue for almost any organisation. Now most people in this world want to help their fellow man and we all know about the amount of excess in the world, so why is it so hard to get donations. Bias. There are so many different things at play here but to name a few.
‘Affect heuristic’ the momentary judgement you make, when you hear something you like or don’t like. We have said that (almost) everyone likes helping people but the same applies that people do not like parting with money and unfortunately that is the first thing that comes to mind. The ‘affect heuristic’ then causes us to think of all the negatives associated with charity, “where’s the money going?”, “why are they bothering me?” and so on. Whilst also stopping you from remembering the people we would be aiding.
‘Paradox of choice’, there are so many different charities out there, doing similar things. So many that you may not be able to decide which one to donate to and therefore do not donate to any, an issue faced a lot in modern life.

Let us now look at it from the other perspective. How to use bias for fundraising. A very strong bias is ‘social proof’, otherwise known as herd instinct. When you see a group of people looking at something or doing something it gives you the social acceptance to do it yourself, and at a deeper level by doing it you satisfy the risk of not missing out.
So if you have managed to get people around you, what is next?; ‘liking bias’ is one of the most powerful tools and one almost every salesperson will tell you is their trick to success. That is ‘making people truly believe that you like them’ and therefore they are far more susceptible to your pitch. This covers everything from the way you talk to them, to how attractive they think you are.
The final bias to look at is ‘reciprocity’; the psychological need for people to return a positive action with a positive action. So how can you utilize this? It is quite simple, give something away for free and the return will far exceed the gift.

I have only had the opportunity to touch on the subject bias, if you want to learn more please read ‘The Art of Thinking Clearly’. For more on sustainability and how we overcome bias at Wessex Social Ventures please get in contact with us.

Adam Boxer
Director
Wessex Social Ventures