Categorized | Social Entrepreneur

Barefoot Power: Empowering Developing Communities to Escape Poverty

Who is the person? What is their background?

Stewart Craine and Harry Andrews, Barefoot Power Founders

Stewart’s background is in civil and electrical engineering and he worked as a renewable energy specialist consultant for more than years. Stewart spent three years designing and constructing micro-hydro power stations in Nepal, and has worked extensively in Papua New Guinea, Fiji and China. Academically, Stewart has a Bachelor of Civil Engineering and Mathematics and a Masters in Electrical Engineering, with much of the research for these studies completed with forming Barefoot Power in mind.

Harry is the regional manager for Barefoot Power’s African operations. He has a background of six years in renewable energy policy, project management and environmental assessment. Harry has worked extensively in Papua New Guinea, East Africa and Fiji. He has a Bachelor of Arts (Environmental Studies), postgraduate qualifications in Environmental Impact Assessment and is currently completing his Masters in Development Studies.

Name of Social Enterprise?

Barefoot Power
www.barefootpower.com

What came about that made them help in social change?

After completing two years fieldwork as a volunteer in Nepal and working in developing communities in Papua New Guinea, Stewart and co-founder Harry saw there was an opportunity to reduce poverty in developing communities around the world by helping millions of people to access electricity – an opportunity that was being ignored by commercial companies and aid donors. This was the first step in these communities’ economic development.

What is your product or service?

Moses and Agnes

Barefoot Power designs and manufactures high quality and affordable LED home lighting systems specifically for poor communities in developing countries. These lights help communities save money and the environment, by allowing them to invest in better energy infrastructure incrementally for their future.

The LED lighting products produced by Barefoot Power are also distributed to small-scale entrepreneurs and the company assists them by working with them to develop business plans and gain assistance from micro finance institutions to finance all levels of the supply chain.

Date officially launched?

January 2005

How many years and how many people has this person helped?

Barefoot Power will reach its one-millionth person in early 2011, which has happened in just over five years.

What is the cost per person that is being helped? Are you working on decreasing that cost by being more efficient? Could others help you and how?

The average retail cost per household lighting system is $35, and the average operating cost to deliver a system to a customer is $10. As sales volumes grow faster than our staff numbers or operating costs, we expect this cost of delivery to the customer to drop to $4. Others can assist us by providing working capital to our rapidly expanding SME customers that import containers of product in various countries, or to their customers, the micro-entrepreneurs.

Cooking

What free online or offline tools do you use?

Barefoot Power uses Skype to communicate with staff, contacts and importers in up to 40 developing countries, and we work with open source software to further enhance our business platform, such as online accounting (Saasu.com.au) and ERP systems (OpenERP.com) and customer relationship management tools.

How many people are currently working, including employees (freelancers or independent contractors for specific projects)?

There are currently 40 employees working for Barefoot Power at various locations around the world.

What is the best advice you never got?

Whenever someone asks you a question, particularly an investor, add the answer to an FAQ list that you can refer people to later, so you don’t have to repeat it 100 times in the coming years – you’ll save writing hundreds of repetitious emails and going insane.

What is the one thing that you did right?

Ewa Solar Light

We predicted it would take 5-6 years to reach one million people, and only one year to reach the next million. The initial yards are very, very tough in bottom-of-the-pyramid business, and moreso when access to capital is very shallow, as it is in Australia compared to the US or EU.

What was the biggest transition you had to make (i.e. new skill set, habits, abilities, focus)?

We had to learn how to make a product and produce hundreds of thousands of them with Chinese factories with workers who spoke little English.

What can you tell other entrepreneurs who are deciding to make a difference?

Stick with the day job as long as you can before making a full-time leap. Apply for peer-reviewed business plan awards – they definitely help secure finance, and there’s good free advice out there that you can use to refine your concept. Find grants wherever and however you can. Ensure the investors are serious and philosophically aligned, ready to grow when your business does – don’t get stranded during successful growth.

What book(s) have you read that others should read?

Ending Poverty in our Lifetimes (J Sachs), Maverick (R Semler), anything on Richard Branson and Google, Long Walk to Freedom (N Mandela), Lee Myung-bak’s rags to riches autobiography, I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, ‘cause you need a laugh too sometimes!

Stewart Craine
Barefoot Power
www.barefootpower.com

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