From National Public Radio by Malaka Gharib:
“People talk about a flash of inspiration. But Xavier Helgesen’s eureka moment came in the dark.
A few years ago, the American entrepreneur was traveling through Malawi to meet with clients for his book-selling company, Better World Books. He stopped in Monkey Bay, a town of about 30,000 people, to spend the night. What made this place unforgettable, he says, was that it was “100 percent off-grid.”
The streets were pitch black. People carried kerosene lamps to walk around at night. When a family invited him to dinner, they all huddled under one dim light. “It was amazing,” he says, “to see that was how everyone lived.”
And that’s when Helgesen, 38, who was just starting to learn about solar energy, had his bright idea: “If anybody needed solar power,” he says, “it was the people living off the electricity grid.”
Helgesen harnessed that idea, and today, is the head of Off-Grid Electric, a for-profit solar energy company that provides affordable electricity service for people in Africa who are off the grid. He started Off-Grid in 2012 with Erica Mackey, a classmate at the University of Oxford’s business school. Off-Grid has reached more than 100,000 households and hired 800 of its 1,000 workers in Tanzania. This year, it’s expanding to Rwanda. The goal to reach 1 million homes in Africa by 2017.”