Bringing Sustainable Light to the Masses

MPOWERDs Luci Light being carried by a child at sunset.

Everyone understands the need for affordable clean technology products, but many are still more expensive than their “dirty” counterparts. MPOWERD wants to help change that with its Luci inflatable solar light and other products. This is MPOWERD’s origin story.

Replacing Dirty Lanterns in Haiti

John Salzinger founded MPOWERD in 2012. He previously was part of a consulting group looking at different technologies that could significantly improve people’s quality of life. After traveling to Haiti on a disaster relief mission shortly after an earthquake in 2010, John realized that Haitians needed access to clean, reliable light and power. In particular, they needed a portable, lightweight, solar-powered light that didn’t run on the electrical grid to replace dirty kerosene lanterns, which cause fires and pulmonary illness and are the leading cause of disease in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“There’s a small company called Coleman that sort of has a handle on the lantern market, but we were naive enough and brave enough to go into that market, aggregate technologies, see what was out there, [come up with] a better design, and add solar,” John says. Specifically, MPOWERD developed a waterproof, durable, inflatable lantern called Luci that can fit into a bag or pocket and has a rechargeable battery. The company says Luci is the first inflatable, affordable solar light.

Working With NGOs and Securing Patents

One of MPOWERD’s strategies has been to work with more than 700 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including Save the Children, React, World Vision, and many others. Through these efforts, “We’ve brought clean light to some extraordinary places: from the towns of Nepal to the villages of Uganda to the mountains of Peru and beyond,” John says.

When choosing NGOs to partner with, MPOWERD tries to determine whether its products would be helpful to an organization’s mission and whether the NGO can pay for them. If not, MPOWERD secures funding from another company in line with its social corporate responsibility efforts, and that company makes a gift in kind to the NGO. MPOWERD uses this approach “all the way down to a very small organization in Papua New Guinea for a women’s buying group,” he says. “Sometimes those hyper-localized organizations are best because they know the community and the customs very well.”

Another strategy is to ensure that all of its products are patented. “We believe that part of innovation means protecting innovation,” John says. “And we wanted to patent our products, so the person in Sub-Saharan Africa using our product knows that they’re getting the exact same quality, design, materials that a hiker purchasing our light at REI receives.” 

This is important to differentiate MPOWERD’s products from knockoffs. “In some of these emerging markets, there are companies that make a ‘like’ product that is not really the genuine product,” he says. “Then they flood markets with these subpar products, and they basically destroy marketplaces.”

Providing Clean, Affordable Energy for Everyone

One of MPOWERD’s values is not to tell people what they need but simply to tell them what the company does and what it offers. “We are finding that today’s very educated consumer is looking for that,” MPOWERD president and CEO Seungah Jeong says. “They care about how their products are made, they care about how the team behind the products is treated, they care about the supply chain, they care about so much more than just the product. Because we have so much choice and information now at our fingertips, we don’t need to be told anymore what we need to purchase.” 

At the same time, the company hasn’t forgotten its purpose. “We’re on a mission to transform lives with thoughtfully designed clean technology,” John says. “As a Certified B Corporation and a benefit corporation, we set strict standards for ourselves, ensuring that our work enhances both society and the environment. Our innovative products give people the power of self-reliance as well as moments of wonder — because we believe that everyone deserves access to clean, reliable, and affordable energy, no matter how or where they live.”

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