Social entrepreneur Kristine Pearson calls her solar radio the "ipod for development." The Lifeplayer represents the first time that the extremely poor have the opportunity to access real-time information on demand anytime, anywhere – in even isolated locations -- without concern for electricity or batteries.
“We have a hard set of demands to respond to given our work in deep rural areas and extreme conditions. By using microSD cards as our memory format, we’re able to interface with smartphones and computers - thereby allowing for group sharing of information previously limited to individual phone users. ”
“I trust in the kindness and goodness of people,” says Kristine Pearson. Over the last 13 years, Pearson has put this conviction into growing Lifeline Energy, which builds and distributes solar and wind-up MP3s and radios, providing access to information and education for rural sub-Saharan communities.
Lifeline Energy’s latest product is the Lifeplayer, an oversized MP3 player that can be pre-loaded to hold 64GB of educational content. Users can download audio and save live voice or radio programs for playback later. With a wireless solar panel and a hand crank, the Lifeplayer can even charge mobile phones. Content recorded on the Lifeplayer can be shared on computers and cellphones.
Pearson doesn’t see the solar radio as a technology invention, but as a combination of existing technologies combined specifically for an underserved market. Though the use of solar technologies to combat energy problems is well-documented, Pearson’s approach is unique to her point of view. Radios, she says, are a key gateway to information that women in particular have limited access to. And the products she designs are specifically created for group listening, so that children can learn if school is not an option, and also so that women can get critical health information.
“Energy poverty” is how Pearson describes the condition endured by women in rural communities without electricity or access to alternative power. She hopes to “see African women emancipated from energy poverty. No longer will women have to walk along dusty paths with jugs of water or stacks of firewood on their heads, to cook with stoves that harm their lungs, or to burn kerosene lights that damage their eyes. No longer will she worry that her children will drink kerosene believing it to be clean water or feel the anxiety that comes from a candle tipping over setting her house alight. She will be at the forefront of the use and adoption of renewable energies, not just as consumers, but also as owners and investors.”
Half a million solar wind-up radios later, and Pearson feels there’s still a lot more work to be done.
Describing the story of an excited Kenyan woman who had just received her solar radio, Pearson recalls the woman’s words: “Yesterday I didn’t know anything. Tomorrow I will know everything”.