A Social Solution, Without Going the Nonprofit Route

Friday, March 13, 2009

It used to be that people who wanted to solve a social problem – like lack of access to clean water or inadequate housing for the poor – created a charity. Today, many start a company instead.

D.light, a company cofounded by Sam Goldman, who spent four years in thePeace Corps in Benin before earning a master’s degree in business fromStanford University, is an example. Mr. Goldman started D.light with the mission of replacing millions of kerosene lamps now used in poor, rural parts of the world with solar-powered lamps.

Having used kerosene lamps himself while living in Benin, Mr. Goldman learned firsthand of kerosene’s problems – it is expensive, it provides poor light and it is extremely dangerous. When the son of his West African neighbor nearly died after suffering severe burns from spilled kerosene, Mr. Goldman said he realized he wanted to create a venture to solve both the social and economic problems caused by these lamps. His time in Benin also convinced him, he said, that only as a business could a project become large enough to reach the great number of people who use these lamps as their primary source of light.

“We could have done it as a nonprofit over a hundred years, but if we wanted to do it in five or 10 years, then we believed it needed to be fueled by profit,” he said. “That’s the way to grow.”

Since the company incorporated in May 2007, it has raised $6.5 million from a combination of investors who, Mr. Goldman said, are able to push the company on both its social mission and its profitability.

(Thanks to Daniel González for suggesting this article!)

Source: The New York Times (link opens in a new window)