Liter of Light Wins Philips Campaign

Monday, 31 March 2014

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MANILA, Philippines – The local office of Netherlands-based healthcare, lifestyle, and lighting giant Philips recently announced the winner (and idea) for its “Meaningful Innovation” campaign — an effort that began in 2011 in Indonesia, South Korea, Thailand, and Singapore.

Philips country manager Fabia Tetteroo-Bueno explained: “We went crowdsourcing to ask the community how they thought we could help them with our innovations. In 2013, we wanted to do the same thing in the Philippines. Two weeks later, Super Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan happened (on Nov. 8, 2013).”

It made sense then, continued the Philips executive, to tweak the campaign and hone in on the hard-hit communities in the Visayas who, to this day, are reeling from the devastation. Three core issues were identified: “the need for sustainable infrastructure for displaced families, immediate access to quality healthcare services, and addressing health and nutrition-related concerns.”

A total 1,057 entries were received and deliberated on in terms of impact, feasibility, innovation, and fit to Philips’ proficiency areas. Experts were enlisted to the panel of judges, namely World Wide Fund for Nature Philippines CEO and vice chairman Lorenzo Tan, Department of Health Assistant Secretary Enrique Tayag, National Center for Health Promotion director Dr. Ivanhoe Escartin, and ICanServe Foundation founding president Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala. The public was also enjoined to vote for their favorites online.

MyShelter Foundation (MSF), led by its executive director Illac Diaz, has come out on top. MSF, according to a Philips release, is “a non-profit organization which has been… improving the lives of many Filipinos through the creation of sustainable solutions for using recycled materials for the building of clinics and classrooms in rural areas.”

Philips is now set to work with MSF to realize its winning idea, dubbed the “Solar Night Light Project,” scheduled for deployment in Yolanda-affected areas in Tacloban City and Iloilo. This is based on the foundation’s Liter of Light, an ingenious and inexpensive lighting project “that makes use of recycled plastic soda bottles and a simple circuit board built from readily available parts.” This is expected to provide hope for some 3.3 million Filipinos initially left without electricity or light in Yolanda’s aftermath.

Diaz, who ditched a corporate career in favor of foundation work, said at the recent awarding ceremony that some two billion people worldwide — 20 million in the Philippines alone — do not have electricity and have to resort to dangerous and dirty kerosene lamps.

Furthermore, Diaz lamented: “We are in the frontline of climate change… What is the backup plan? The inspiration for Liter of Light scaling up with Philips is… can we do something with alternative energy that (saves us) when light posts go down? How can we scale up rapidly?”

The MSF executive director cautioned that alternatively powered machines are not always good things. They are often expensive — utilizing patented technology that average people or communities may not have the means to pay for.

“Nobody tells you that in two years, the batteries will run out. If a switch breaks, you have to throw it away… Leyte and Samar had invested almost $300 million in solar technology, but they could not” find parts to replace broken ones, he said.

“By the time the typhoon came and we went there, we could see that solar (devices) as we know it without a good support and back up system — and most importantly, if you don’t teach people to repair it and access parts — is a failed move,” he added.

Responding to a question from The STAR, Diaz said an indoor Liter of Light assembly with solar-powered printed circuit board costs about P700, while a street-light version starts at P3,000. When using metal post instead of the polyvinyl chloride (PVC) tubing, it can get up to P5,000. “It’s nothing compared to the P100,000 or P150,000 for the same product when it’s imported and patented,” he said.

A partnership with Philips will help MSF in a myriad of ways. First, Philips engineers are expected to deconstruct the Liter of Light and look at reducing the number of pieces that need to be soldered — currently 20. Second, some of the components are proprietary, making them more costly than necessary. Diaz is hoping Philips will leverage on its expertise to make the product simpler and easier to produce. Hopefully, it will halve costs as well.

“So that we could deploy as many as possible,” underscored Tetteroo-Bueno, promising to get the products to the affected areas in six to nine months.

Aside from the Solar Night Light Project, four other ideas (including a couple seeking to address healthcare concerns) were acknowledged by Philips, which will be supporting them anyway.

In an exclusive interview with The STAR, Tayag welcomed the assurance and said, “We have to rebuild the health system infrastructure. This is very important as their service delivery network — from households to hospitals — was disrupted… We have lots of programs that are community-based that now have no structures and no health providers.”

The target beneficiaries of the winning idea are the dwellers of 228 bunkhouses (with 12 rooms each) built by the Department of Public Works and Highways. “They do have electronic circuits… but the private owners of the power plants do not want to connect to them because there’s this issue of who’s going to pay for them,” rued Diaz. “What we did was light up the first bunkhouses with our technologies.”

He shared that the MSF has also already lit up more than a 1,000 areas around Tacloban. The MSF has looked at addressing the lighting needs of tent cities in Cebu and Iloilo as well, but Diaz conceded they have yet to realize scalability. Philips, he said, can also assist with supply chain management.

Crucially, Diaz wants to add a livelihood component to the program, so that people can be easily conscripted and trained to make the lighting assemblies — while earning from them. The technology, he added, should also be easily serviceable and understandable. “We must localize; we must move for local production,” he stressed. “A real green economy (supports) end-to-end production. People earn from making it and installing it.”

“This is such a great campaign because it can address all the disasters in the past as well as the disasters in the future,” Diaz said. “We are not just beneficiaries; one day, with these technologies, we can be benefactors to anywhere around the world that experiences energy poverty.”

Written by Kap Maceda Aguila for the Philippine Star