The Liter of Light Initiative

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 “Sometimes it’s not the big things that matter, but the small things, replicated in the millions, that make the biggest difference.”

Hundreds of thousands of people around the world can attest to the truth in that statement, made by Illac Diaz, the social entrepreneur founder of Liter of Light, under the My Shelter Foundation. Since being launched in the Philippines in 2011, Liter of Light has been installed in millions of homes around the world and has garnered international attention – including gaining the support of one of the world’s largest food and beverage companies, PepsiCo – by using simple technology and local entrepreneurship to literally shed light on some of the world’s poorest communities.

According to a 2014 International Energy Agency report, globally there are more than 1.3 billion people who are without access to electricity, more than 95 per cent of whom live in either sub-Saharan Africa, or in developing Asia. Eight in 10 live in rural areas. Electricity is taken for granted in developed parts of the world, and while we rely on it for lightning, cooling, heating and more at the touch of a button, it’s hard to understand the value of electricity in the process of economic empowerment.

Many homes in the indigent villages that suffer from energy poverty are poorly constructed, and lack adequate light to perform basic household activities, such as preparing meals and, more importantly, for doing homework, or for working on entrepreneurial projects – both of which are critical for communities, if they are to become economically empowered. Even during daylight hours, these homes are without light, leading families to turn to unsafe alternatives such as kerosene lamps, or fires fuelled by coal or biomass, including wood, crop waste, and animal dung.

Given the situation and the stakes, a solution was badly needed.

Electricity is taken for granted in developed parts of the world, […] it’s hard to understand the value of electricity in the process of economic empowerment.

Enter the partnership between PepsiCo and Liter of Light, which brings cost effective solar lighting solutions to communities in need while recycling plastic bottles.

The concept behind Liter of Light is simple – taking plastic bottles, the type used by soft drinks manufacturers, and filling them with water and bleach, and affixing it through a roof using a small piece of corrugated metal.

Liter of Light’s solar bottle bulbs use natural sunlight to refract up to 60 Watts of clear light across a 40 square meter room.

And all without the use of electricity! The bottle lights are low cost, they are easily constructed, and they can be installed by community volunteers in about 30 minutes, with minimal training required.

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Liter of Light in Pakistan

Illac Diaz launched the Liter of Light as a social enterprise in the Philippines in 2011, under the MyShelter Foundation. “The purest form of charity is to make yourself obsolete and through this people’s technology, supported by PepsiCo, it shows that empowering the bottom of the pyramid, by putting the power of solar in human hands and multiplying it by hundreds of thousands could be the greatest energy solution of all,” says Illac Diaz.

Illac Diaz recognized the potential of the enterprise to help people in his home country, the Philippines, and so he launched the initiative as a local entrepreneur business model. According to Diaz, through Liter of Light “we can change the lives of millions of people around the world, who are struggling from one of the greatest challenges – energy poverty. Just for an hour or two of your time, you can light up a family’s house, practically forever.”

 “We can change the lives of millions of people around the world, who are struggling from one of the greatest challenges – energy poverty. Just for an hour or two of your time, you can light up a family’s house, practically forever.” – Illac Diaz

Not only did this enable thousands of underprivileged families to have a safe and reliable source of light in their houses, but it provided members of such communities with the means to install the Liter of Light apparatus for a small income. In the early months of the initiative, 15,000 solar bottle bulbs were installed in homes in 20 cities and provinces in the Philippines, which began to inspire similar needy communities around the world.

“[Doing this] gives people some kind of normalcy; they can live in their houses during the day, without having to bring the kerosene to the kitchen table,” says Diaz. With Liter of Light’s solar bottle bulbs made from recycled plastic beverage bottles, it was only natural that PepsiCo got involved in the initiative in 2011, by partnering with Illac’s My Shelter Foundation.

Liter of Light fits ideally within PepsiCo’s business mandate, Performance with Purpose, which aims to deliver top-tier financial performance while creating sustainable growth and shareholder value. In practice, Performance with Purpose means providing a wide range of foods and beverages from treats to healthy eats; finding innovative ways to minimize its impact on the environment and reduce operating costs; providing a safe and inclusive workplace for its employees globally; and respecting, supporting and investing in the local communities where we operate. “We live in an era in which CSR and business are mutually beneficial. CSR is not about simply about donating money to a good cause, it is about helping communities to thrive through sustainable approaches that tackle specific issues,” says Noha Hefny, Director of Communications, PepsiCo Middle East and North Africa.

 “Sometimes it’s not the big things that matter, but the small things, replicated in the millions, that make the biggest difference.” – Illac Diaz

“Illac is an inspiration; he is one man, turning his dream into reality by empowering millions of underprivileged families in some of the world’s poorest communities. Liter of Light is the perfect example of what can happen when motivated individuals, with a passion for making society a better place, are given the tools to realize their ambitions while bringing low cost innovative solutions to some of the world’s most important challenges,” she adds.

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PepsiCo helping rural communities in Malaysia

With PepsiCo’s support, the Liter of Light is already lighting up villages in the Philippines, Pakistan, Mexico and Columbia and Egypt.  In 2015, PepsiCo took the initiative global when its largest beverage brand, Pepsi, adopted Liter of Light as part of a global marketing strategy, #PepsiChallenge. Over the course of the year, every time Pepsi consumers around the world used the #PepsiChallenge hash tag on public Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or YouTube profiles, Pepsi donated $1 to Liter of Light to help bring light to people around the world who need it most. The partnership helped communities in more than 18 countries. It has been extended to include a solarpowered battery, which enables homes to have light during the night, too. Outdoor installations are also being used to provide public lighting, illuminating streets and more.

Pepsi and Liter of Light also collaborated on ‘Ignite the Light’ Tour to raise awareness around the world as part of the 2015 Pepsi Challenge campaign. The Tour is an international journey of creative, large-scale, mixed media art installations created by artists from around the world, in order to bring attention to communities that lack both electricity and basic lighting solutions. The ‘Ignite the Light Tour’ enables us to use fun and excitement to raise global awareness of a very serious need.

The PepsiCo and liter of light collaboration has been impactful particularly in some rural communities in Egypt where up to 15% of the population live below the poverty line (less than $2 per day), according to a World bank statistic. In 2014, Liter of Light began providing solar bottle bulbs to some disadvantaged communities in an effort to help them overcome the electricity deficiency.

With Liter of Light’s solar bottle bulbs made from recycled plastic beverage bottles, it was only natural that PepsiCo got involved in the initiative in 2011, by partnering with Illac’s My Shelter Foundation.

PepsiCo has been an advocate of the program, helping two ways – firstly, to install Liter of Light’s solar bottle bulbs in three villages in Sohag and Assiut in Upper Egypt, and secondly, to drive local entrepreneurship by encouraging the production of 100 percent Egyptian-made batteries. By using locally-made batteries for the night lights, Egyptian communities benefit from more than just Liter of Light installations, the price of which is reduced as parts no longer need to be imported – they have the opportunity to generate income by making and selling the batteries.

PepsiCo Egypt also launched a competition with GESR labs, part of Misr El Kheir Foundation, to find an innovative design for producing solar batteries in Egypt. The competition was held across 26 Governorates and garnered more than 100 entries. The winning innovators were provided with working mechanisms, funding, training and the support needed to successfully manufacture the battery.  “This is about teaching people how to convert the sun to light,” says Illac Diaz about the PepsiCo initiative in Egypt. As the saying goes, give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, but teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. In this case, we are giving a man the means to make a solar bottle bulb to illuminate his life, day and night. It also goes beyond that man’s live to help the local community too.”

PepsiCo Egypt invested in the initiative to bring it to life, as one of the company’s major social responsibility programs in Upper Egypt. The partnership is one of the most successful and impactful examples of a collaboration between a private company and a social enterprise. “It is just a start that Liter of Light is being installed in houses around the world, [in the homes of]people who need it desperately. People that maybe I have never met, but it still makes the same difference,” says Illac.

Together with PepsiCo, Liter of Light is making the world a brighter place, one solar bottle bulb at a time.

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