Bringing a flash of light into the off-grid area@Susan Li

Speaker Introduction

Susan Li

Li Xia, the founder of Shenzhen Power-solution Ind Co., Ltd., who had awarded the 2018 New Energy Leader of Asian Development Bank , China Gold Social Enterprise. And the story of the enterprise was selected into the Business School in Renmin University of China, SEM in Tsinghua University and SAGE business case.



Full text of the speech

Bring lights to the off-grid area.

4300 words, 9 minutes to read


1.Where no electricity

You know what ? There are 5.3 million people died every year because they have no access to electricity. 5300000 ! what is that number means ?It is the total registered population of the city we are in here today, equals to the population of Shenzhen . If they lined up with one meter distance each, they can connect from Mohe in the north to Sanya in the south.

And you must wonder . How and why did that happen?

Because in those areas(no electricity) , people use kerosene lamps for light.The carbon dioxide and smoke released from the kerosene lamps each year causes numerous respiratory diseases and fires, eventually leading to their death


When I noticed the situation of this group 12 years ago,despite the helplessness I saw, I also insighted a huge business opportunity.Because there were still 1.2 billion people living without electricity, and I thought, what can I do for them?


So I started to investigate this group more deeply, and I found that not only did they not have access to electricity, but also they didn’t have enough money to afford better products.Most of them earn less than 15 RMB per day, or less than 2,000 RMB a year.


There is an international term for this group is called “BOP”, abbreviation for “Bottom of Pyramid”.


I gonna lecture the story of how to deliver power to BOP,it’s hard to imagine the life without electricity especially for those who lived in modern metropolises.


You can see this Masai Mara family from Kenya behind me.The whole family lives in this house made of cow dung and branches and the house has no Windows because afraid of animal attacks, so it is almost dark regardless of day and night.



The only thing for lighting is a kerosene lamp, and the cost of a kerosene lamp is more than 10 RMB each month, which is undeniable worse for this poor family.


It took them more than two hours to walk to the nearest water source. The children had to carry water when the adults were at working.They had to carry pails of water every day even if they are starving and have nothing to eat.And they would choose to stab sheep’s legs and drink sheep’s blood to relieve thirst.



Look at these poor sheep. They are nothing but a hungry thirsty and skinny body



Due to the wars and malaria, they lived a worse condition then we can never imagine,even death.

I’ve believed that this picture was wild spread and you definitely knows what happen.These are all the truth but we wish would never exist.So I asked myself again and again,what can I do for them ?


I urgently wish I can bring lights to them. This light for them is not only light, but also hope.


2.Bring a flash of light to BOP


You may ask me, for the BOP group, it is very difficult to do anything without electricity or money. Why do I choose to work for BOP? Because it has something to do with my personal upbringing experience.


I was also born in a BOP family many years ago.At the age of 18, although I did well in both character and study, I had to drop out of junior high school because of poverty.If it were not for the fact that my uncles came back to worship his ancestors that year and brought a lot of information from the outside world, I would probably feel that people all over the world are living in such conditions like me all my life. However, the information shines into my life like a ray of light and gives me great strength.The outside world is so big and wonderful that I want to go out and see it.I am reluctant to live like this all my life, so I bravely left my hometown, came to Beijing, and then worked in Shenzhen.


Those who are not BOP may never feel how rare and desirable an opportunity is for the BOP group.Every day I was extremely worried about whether I would be fired, because my degree was too ungraceful. So I had to work hard and learn all kinds of knowledge to arm myself.From arranging orders on the production line, to controlling quality,managing the supply chain, even the unimaginable fact that a woman in her early 20s loading containers with a group of shirtless men ,working more than 16 hours a day, I learned how to control the whole process, from placing orders to how to ensure on-time delivery, and these skills ensured me that my own business was a success in the first time.


Three years after starting my business, I earned my won car and my own house in Shenzhen. At that time, I only served the people who are at the top of the pyramid. They were all rich .When life are comfortable good, no one wants to think back the times when I was in particularly poverty. Neither do I. If it hadn’t been for the trip I went to India on business in 2007, my life might not have changed again.



When I was in a slum in India – a home made of tins and plastic sheets was swaying in the wind, which stand next to a smelly pile of garbage, I didn’t have the courage to get out of the car and look at them(BOP) sitting there with no hope in their eyes but numbness.


If I hadn’t been a BOP, maybe I would never have felt the same numbness of how despair, so I made up my mind to do something for this group.


This became my first core values in my second venture.I originally thought that the business logic of serving the rich and BOP should be similar, but I did not expect that they were two completely different groups, from consumption habits to market channels. It was very tough for me to make my transition to serving BOP in those years.Making no profits In the first two years. Actually I never wanted to  give up,but I asked myself why being so hard on yourself when days are better.Thinking of  I’m  the one who will bring them light in their life, even a little bit of change and hope is enough. Then I insisted. It can be hard for you to realize how desperately you craving for improving your living conditions as a BOP.


I never thought that I could keep it so far for 12 years, and with 12 years efforts, we have brought electricity to 30 million people nearly 5.5 million poor families in 66 countries,and they have access to electricity through the decent and affordable way .You’re curious about how I managed to bring clean energy to a group of people who had no money and no electricity.



In fact, it took six years of research and development and four updations to make the lamp that I have in my hand.When you look at this lamp, you think it’s very simple, right? It actually includes a lot of innovations, which are very significant for BOP — for example, we reduced  8 screws into 1 , which not only improved the assembly efficiency , but also made maintenance easier and simpler.


Speaking of this stand, for example. I’ve been thinking about how to lower it since 2010, when I built the first generation of solar lamps.Why?Because deliver the products to the last mile is all carried by people, if the stand is lowered, the size of the product will be reduced. With the reduced size, more products can be packed in one box, from 40 to 96 , which is fully doubled.


Did you noticed this hook? When you look at this hook. I’m sure you think it’s very simple.But for this simple hook, I’ve been thinking about it for three years, and I’ve tried all kinds of local sources — corn cobs, twigs, sticks, even cow dung,which I rubbed it from right to the left again and again in my mind, wish it can shaped into a standard bracket. But I didn’t succeed until I saw the bottle.



That was on a business trip to Somalia, I was planned to go there by air, but there was a civil war, and the gunfire already started at the airport, and all the flights were grounded, so I had to drive for five or six hours to get there.Can you imagine that?I was so scared and frightend that I couldn’t fall asleep, even a blink.The mineral water bottle, which I saw it  every day in the city, came into my sight. I found that no matter how desolate and backward the place is, there always have such bottles, which are all left behind by the drivers who deliver the goods.If I had not been in such an environment, I might never have imagined in my life that there could be bottles in a place where drinking water was in shortage.


So my product has a hook that can be hung on any water bottle, like this one show in the picture. This stand is to increase the use of reading light, and hung on anywhere for family lighting.The hook enabled me to successfully reduce the 13.5 cm bracket of the first generation solar lamp to 6 cm, and also reduced the purchase cost from 65 RMB to 30 RMB, which completely half off the cost.


You may ask me, can you save 30RMB just with a stand? Actualluy, only reducing the material costs can’t save so much money, because in the last kilometer where has no transportation, need someone to carry it. That explains how expensive it is.So we gave it a name for this solar lamp only made up with 9 small parts –the Candle Killer.



Candle Killer is 3 times the brightness of kerosene lamp. A 3-4 months expenditure of a kerosene lamp equals to a Candle Killer.And a Candle Killer would last for 36months. For the price, a Candle Killer sells only 10 RMB, but 10 RMB is only the cost to buy a kerosene lamp for one month.

What you may not know is that kerosene lamps produce 0.37 tons of carbon emissions a year, and it would take 4.5 trees to absorb them.For 100 million BOP people, kerosene lamps emit 37 million tons of carbon each year. It would take 160 million trees a year to absorb that carbon, so Candle Killer is not only light up the BOP’s family, but also protect their lives, as well as the planet.


How can clean energy be provided to a group like the BOP that has no electricity and no money?A lot of people around me, including probably all of you, think that’s impossible, right?But we made it .Do you feel that many things are impossible in your daily life?For example, when faced with a challenge at work, do you find it difficult to complete the task?When things get tough in your life, do you tell yourself that it is hard?But think about how many difficulties we have and compared it to the difficulties the BOP group may face?And through 12 years of efforts, we have enabled 30 million BOPs worldwide to have access to electricity and light.

3.Little innovation, great value


Innovations not always have to be fancy in technologies. Our approach is to get close to the needs of the BOP group, to understand the environment where they live, then to create these innovative solutions.So what we understand about innovation is that if you find a problem and you solve it, it’s very valuable.


Later, I visited many BOP groups in order to find and solve more problems of them.I have been to many third countries, such as Somalia, Nigeria, Sudan, Congo and so on. I have found many new needs of them. For example, in the last mile of the country where there is no electricity or Internet, can we carry out digital information dissemination for them?So we created another solution, Solar Media.We put the animation into this product, making the content and knowledge easy to understand and easy to spread;We have also achieved sustainable development through a variety of innovations.



At this point, do you think it is not that difficult to solve the BOP?In fact, along the way, we have met all kinds of challenges in order to solve the pain points of BOP.When we first found that they didn’t have electricity, we tried to use solar energy to solve the problem, but they couldn’t afford it, so we tried to reduce the cost.


When I started this business, no one believed I can make it. No one wants to do it with me.I doing it all along and slowly have my team at last, and today I have more than 100 team members, 50% of whom are production workers on the front line.No investments and I use my first earned business money. All spend in developing this business. The world bank was surprised when they visit my company, such a small manufacturing companies in China, how to earn the customer satisfaction and market share with their own products under the situation of no investment fund? It not only realized the sustainable development of the enterprise, but also solves so many problems for the BOP group.


Many people might think that I am great after listening to my story, but I want to tell you that I don’t want to be great anymore.I just found the problem and insist to solve it and it has taken us 12 years to deliver clean energy to 30 million BOPs, far short from the needs of 840 million people.



We only did a little bit, but we managed to do it from 0 to 1 in the prospect of business, so I would like to call on more people who has the ability to make the best use of the resource to join in, from 1 to 10, even from 10 to 100, to bring clean energy to more BOP population as soon as we can.

Even if you are an ordinary man, you can share BOP group with your friends and family, push more and more people do it together.