The Dominican Light Project, led by the social enterprise Esenciales J.S. SRL, is aiming to achieve an absolutely incredible goal. They want to light up an entire country, providing a sustainable source of light for people currently forced to live in the dark. Right now, 88% of the population in the Dominican Republic experience nightly blackouts. Many people are forced to live off the electricity grid entirely. The Dominican Light Project’s mission is to provide every Dominican home in need a safe source of light.
For every $25 raised with the Dominican Light Project on Indiegogo, five Dominicans will receive a solar lantern to provide them with a safe source of light. Each lantern will provide 12 hours of bright, LED light per 6-8-hour charge and will eliminate the health and fire risks associated with candles and kerosene lamps. This solution will change the daily lives of each person in each household helped.
The lack of light in the Dominican Republic leaves children without light to study and families without a sense of security. When these families are able to make enough money, they buy kerosene lamps or candles, but those often cause fires, they lead to severe respiratory health problems over time, and they are expensive relative to the average family income. Some children even create makeshift torches to light the paths of their long dark walks to and from school by lighting on fire sticks retrofitted with moldy bread and kerosene.
Recently, Esenciales J.S. SRL worked with Dominican Major League Baseball All-Star Albert Pujols’ Pujols Family Foundation, to provide light to 2,000 people in the Dominican community of Batey Alemán. The team has also successfully lit up the entire village of El Choco, Cabarete amongst others. With the successful funding of the Dominican Light Project Indiegogo campaign, more solar lanterns will be provided to those in the greatest need, and to more families and more children like Rafael, Raul, and his siblings.
Below is a quick Q&A with Shawn Hakim, Co-Founder of the Dominican Light Project.
How did you come to understand the struggle and need for light in the Dominican Republic?
Jacqueline, Co-Founder of the Dominican Light Project, is Dominican. She grew up in the Dominican Republic and faced blackouts on a nightly basis. She struggled to do her homework with candle light, lived in with uncertain fear of darkness every night, and understands how precious and empowering light truly is.
Due to Dominican law you have set up The Dominican Light Project up as a social enterprise. Can you explain more what benefits a social enterprise awards you over a non-profit?
As a nonprofit, you are limited on how you can interact with other companies and raise funds. More specifically we could not team with another organization to light up an area if we the other organization pays for the lantern purchase and we provide them (even if we offer it at cost) – this constitutes a sale and is not allowed. So being a nonprofit limits the amount of people we can help. As a social enterprise we can partner and collaborate with any entity in any way that can best help.
What has been the projects greatest struggle so far? What will prevent the project from not attaining its goal?
It is hard to have our story heard and focused on over others. We need as many supporters and advocates behind this project as possible. Without supporters and advocates we cannot reach the goal of lighting up a country.
How to you start working with the Pujous Family Foundation? How have they helped you with the amazing goal The Dominican Light Project has presented to the world?
We were introduced to the Pujols Family Foundation, founded by MLB Superstar Albert Pujols, by a mutual friend. The Foundation is not involved with this particular project, but n January 2016, together we lit up the lives of 2000 Dominicans in Batey Aleman Dominican Republic. We literally changed the daily lives of everyone in every household helped.
How many homes or villages did you and Jacqueline help before you realized you should take this to the next step and try to change the lives of all Dominicans who need access to light?
From the beginning we aimed to light up the entire country. We are doing it little by little and need as many people as we can get behind us to reach the incredibly impactful goal.
Can you tell us one story of how one solar lantern has already changed the course on a families life from the work you and Jacqueline have done?
Rafael Fernandez in El Choco, Dominican Republic:
Rafael is a shy, funny Dominican boy that commutes 2.5 hours to school each way and lives without light. He wakes up at 5am to walk 5 miles through pitch dark, dirt paths to reach the nearest road to walk to the nearest village to take 2 buses to walk to school.
He told us, he like many of his friends work shining shoes and washing cars after school and he gets home after 9pm. Rafael explained to us with much pride that he uses his sense of memory to get through the first 5 miles of his dark commute and on days with heavy fog he uses a makeshift torch with kerosene dipped bread on a stick to navigate the journey…Rafael did not complain about the intense daily journey to/from school or the fact he has to work at a young age, but he did mention one thing – he is slightly ashamed for being at the bottom of his class…Rafael explains “how do they expect me to do my studies when I come home at 9pm to a home without light?” “I do what I can on the bus but the roads are rough in my neighborhood so my writing is really messy” Rafael explained as he busted out in laughter…The Dominican Light Project gave Rafael a solar lantern – a little over a year later we revisited his village and he hooked onto Jacqueline’s leg with a huge smile would not let go…Rafael said with the solar lantern in hand, he now saves almost 1 hour each way on his school commute because he can see where he is going + studies 1 to 2 hours more per day than without light and raised his grades by one full letter + most importantly Rafael says he feels a sense of pride from doing better in school and plans on sharing his light with other kids in his village…Proud Rafael serves as proof that $25 can truly change the lives of 5 Dominicans in need…
When were you first introduced to social enterprise and how would you explain social enterprise to others?
I first was introduced to social enterprise when I was obtaining my MBA from UCLA Anderson School of Management. My goal was to find an application of my business acumen to a social cause – a passion project. Social enterprise is the intersection between the cause/impact driven component of a nonprofit and the structure/frame of a business. In some cases it allows for the maximum amount of impact to be made for the cause because the enterprise can be self-funded and self-scalable.