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GP invests in Greenlight Planet to bring more solar lights to rural poor in Latin America

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by Danny Stokley, green technology officer, Global Partnerships

In regions of the world where grid electricity is inaccessible, Greenlight Planet’s line of Sun King branded solar lights is becoming a household name. In simple terms, Greenlight Planet (GLP) makes really cool products designed for people living in poverty. They represent what many impact investors, like Global Partnerships, look for - overlap between reaching underserved families with products that improve their lives, while growing sales and maintaining margins that make them an attractive investment opportunity. Global Partnerships (GP) has been in conversations with GLP for over a year, and in October disbursed a working capital loan to support their continued growth as a company.

Why is GP investing in Greenlight Planet?

Global Partnerships has been working for some time to address the working capital crunch at the solar light distributor level in Latin America. We believe that partnering with GLP will help get more high-quality solar lights into local distribution channels, increasing the supply of products that make a tremendous impact at the household level. We learned a lot about the company through desk research and Skype calls, but visiting each partner, interviewing staff at all levels, and meeting their clients is an essential part of our due diligence process.

Visiting Greenlight Planet in India

So, after several months of pouring over financial statements, growth projections, and management bios, GP’s Chief Investment and Operating Officer (CIOO) Mark Coffey and I packed our bags and traveled to GLP’s headquarters in Mumbai, India. We spent two days on site working with GLP’s team, and then flew to Lucknow, the bustling capital of Uttar Pradesh, a state in northern India.

Our ultimate destination was an off-grid community three hours outside the city, where we spent the afternoon interviewing families that had purchased Sun King products. However, we did get a chance to visit the GLP branch office in Lucknow. Still jetlagged, we were tired, hungry, and sweating profusely by the time we arrived. However, our exhaustion faded away when we were met at the door by the entire GLP branch team. They had stopped what they were doing to greet us, presenting each of us with a bouquet of flowers.  That small extra gesture made us feel like we were already part of the family. 

While this warm greeting is just one example, I believe much of GLP’s success can be attributed to their attention to little details. This ethos seems to be woven into the fabric of Greenlight Planet, and nowhere is this more evident than in their best-selling solar light, the Sun King Pro (SKP).  At first glance the SKP is beautifully designed and elegant in its simplicity. Picking it up reveals that all external components are smooth, compact, and durable, made to withstand potentially rough treatment in rural environments. Beyond the attractive look and feel, the SKP offers a couple of key innovations – little details that make a big difference for families living off-grid. 

Innovations in solar light design

By way of example, the SKP includes a solar charging gauge, a simple display showing the strength of charge while the panel is in the sun. This acts as a built-in guide to assist with panel placement decisions during the day, helping users determine which direction to face the panel and learn the effects of shading.  Allowing each customer get the most out of their light not only increases user satisfaction, it ultimately increases impact through additional hours of light.

Attention to detail and focus on improving the user experience has proven to be very disruptive in technology markets in the developed world, and GLP’s Sun King solar lights are beginning to have the same impact in off-grid communities. Families living in extreme poverty are some of the most discerning customers on the planet, and companies that want to sell them new technologies must design intuitive, aspirational products.

Having a great solar light product is not enough to succeed

Most people working at the last mile will tell you that having a great product is just the beginning, and during our visit we also learned about a number of GLP’s innovations in building out distribution channels. In order to support GLP’s expansion in Latin America, Global Partnerships will provide working capital that allows them to offer more flexible credit terms to select partners in the region.  These small social enterprises are acutely affected by cash flow challenges inherent in importing products manufactured across the world, yet are a key part of the value chain reaching off-grid consumers. We hope that a small grace period on payment terms will allow these companies to import greater quantities, avoid stock outs, and begin scaling their impact. 

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Blog Tags: last mile      solar lights   solar tech   

Mastram is a last-mile reseller of GLP's Sun King Pro solar lights
Mastram (left) was one of the first residents in his village to buy a Sun King Pro. He was then recruited to become a last-mile reseller for GLP, referred to as a Saathi (Friend). He now earns as much from selling lights as he does from farming, and is known around his community as the “Solar Light Wallah (Guy).” Photo © Global Partnerships

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