Teaching the world about sustainability, one lamp at a time

Govinda Uphadyay - EIT AwardsOn 6 May 2015, the EIT Awards ceremony honoured Europe’s rising stars of innovation and entrepreneurship. The ceremony was hosted at InnovEIT, the EIT Innovation Forum in Budapest, where KIC InnoEnergy’s Alumni Govinda Upadhyay was awarded with The EIT CHANGE Award for his design of a simple and affordable solar LED lamp that can be basically assembled by anyone.

Govinda is a PhD student from Delhi, India currently working at the EPFL Solar Energy and Building Physics Laboratory. Despite living in Europe he has not forgotten the daily struggle that developing countries are going through due to the lack of some of the most basic resources such as electricity.

Moved by a passion for societal and technology development, in 2011 Govinda started an ambitious project aimed at eradicating the lack of electric lamps in developing countries. The project started with a simple pilot test conducted in Bihar, India, where the first solar powered lamps were built and tested by the local community.

Since then the project has grown into a company called LEDsafari, with presence in developed and developing countries like Switzerland, Sweden, India, Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania.

In developed countries, where access to electricity is not really an issue, the project aims at educating young students about sustainability issues, while teaching about technology through a hands on experience.

“Right now what we study about sustainability is very theoretical in school all over the world, with no hands-on practices.” Says Govinda. “How do you understand how technology really works in real life conditions? How do children understand what a design process is? We have developed an innovative pedagogical way to teach students about electrical concepts, design process and sustainability using the process of making a simple and inexpensive solar LED lamp.”

But it is in the developing countries that the “make-it-yourself” solar lamp solves a much bigger problem: the lack of access to light during night hours. Govinda’s lamp, made of only five components, is today helping hundreds of young students to dedicate more time to their studies avoiding the use of expensive and unhealthy oil lamps.

The power of collaborative development

Govinda Uphadyay's Workshop“If you want to solve people’s problems, don’t sell them a solution, but teach them how to make the solution by themselves” says Govinda.

LEDsafari’s CEO understood that letting people make their own lamps with the resources available locally was a much more powerful and effective way to penetrate the market quickly and on a large scale rather than selling the lamp itself. Today more than four hundred students around the world have learnt how to make their own low cost solar lamps.

The power of the LEDsafari project does not rely only on an extremely passionate and driven entrepreneur like Govinda, but on its potential in terms of scalability. “If you want to eradicate a problem spread on a large geographical area, collaborative knowledge and development is often one of the best ways of doing it.” says Govinda and this is what the two programs “Train The Trainer” and “Travel & Train” are all about.

“Training the Trainer” aims at creating local entrepreneurs in power-deficient parts of developing countries with the help of partner organisations already working to aid a specific community. “Travel & Train” makes use of the growing concept of “social tourism” to support skilled travelling enthusiasts eager to promote responsible tourism and positively impact the lives of the local community.

It is exactly thanks to this knowledge-sharing model that Govinda was able to multiply exponentially the impact of his project and reach so many countries and so many people in such a short time.

Getting the job done

It wasn’t an easy road for Govinda and his company, but today thanks to the support of his partners and the commitment of his team the project is geographically expanding at a very fast pace. LEDsafari workshops are going on around Europe, Africa and Asia and LEDsafari is being recognised as a real game-changer in the way we introduce sustainability education all over the world.

The way is still long and probably full of challenges, but Govinda has a clear plan: “There are 500.000.000 secondary school students all over the world” says Govinda “and we only need 2.5 billion to get the job done”. We want to empower every student on this planet to take a small practical step towards a sustainable world.