When Italian architect Matteo Ferroni visited remote villages in Mali in 2010, he was shocked to discover that roughly 90 percent of the population didn’t have access to electricity, and were therefore completely reliant on daylight to be productive. To help combat this issue, Ferroni developed a solar-powered lamp that embraces innovation and incorporates new technologies. Crucially, it is made almost completely from locally sourced materials.
Ferroni wanted construction of the lamps to be easily replicated so people could fabricate them themselves, so he designed it after consulting local welders and other labour workers. This way, people would have the technology and knowledge to construct as many lamps as were needed for their communities. Materials used include locally sourced old bike parts and piping. The only imported material needed is the solar-powered, rechargeable light bulb. The lamps are built with bike wheels on the bottom so they could be easily moved around homes and the community. It also allows for easy use by people of all ages. Each lamp costs roughly $330.00 to make, with the majority of the cost going towards the imported lightbulb. There are currently 56 lamps across 12 villages in Mali.
The lamps, which are simple and cheap to build, were well-received by the communities where they were implemented, and have allowed for a variety of activities to be carried out after daylight is over. More work can now be conducted in the early mornings and at night, which helps reduce the economic burdens faced by many people in the region. One major activity the lamp is often used for is butchering livestock. This needs to be done at night when temperatures are cool, and the solar powered lamps offer much needed light to ensure the task is done properly and safely. The lamps are also used near water-collection points, as many women, due to their daily schedules, collect water either in the early hours of the morning or later at night. Children can now continue schoolwork after dark. Solar lamps have also been used in classrooms to help provide additional light during school hours when needed.
Many of the lamps are rented out to other communities for a small fee, so that others can have easy access to a light source. They are often used for social events throughout the community, as well as some personal use. This renting system results in income being generated for the communities who rent out the lamps, which then allows them to invest in their livelihoods as a whole. Incoming funds have allowed for more resources to be used for education and health systems, which were programs that were previously ineffective.
The solar-powered lamps, called Foroba Yelen by the local women (which translates to “Collective Light” in English), have received widespread positive feedback. This has lead Ferroni to establish his group, Fondazione eLand. eLand is based in Switzerland, and aims to help rural and remote communities by introducing innovative, new technologies to help improve livelihoods. In 2014, the group announced it would produce manuals with instructions on how to fabricate the solar powered lamps so that communities in Mali and across the Global South can produce their own. They also conduct studies to find out which activities are being negatively affected by a lack of light, and help communities develop the portable lamps so that these actions can be easily carried out.
Ferroni’s work was recognized by the City to City Barcelona FAD award (2012) for having a positive impact in transforming global communities, and has received funding from the University of Barcelona. It also won the Lamp Lighting Solutions award in 2013.