Monday, February 18, 2013

To Help Light Up Africa, Many Drops in the Bucket
By visiting Web sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, you can give money to any number of causes. These Web sites collect small amounts from many individuals in what is known as crowdfunding to finance everything from business start-ups to charitable causes to art projects.

While online crowdfunding is still relatively new, it has already demonstrated that many small contributions can add up. Deloitte, the accounting and consulting firm, estimates that the largest 30 crowdfunding sites raised more than $1.5 billion over the last five years, and expects that in 2013 alone the number could be $3 billion.

...Since its crowdfunding site made its debut last July, SunFunder has raised $50,000 from about 300 investors to finance four business ventures that sell solar-powered products in these areas, according to ... founder, Ryan Levinson. Anyone is eligible to join the site - so far investors have come from 18 different countries - and the minimum investment is $10.

Unlike some other crowdfunding operations, SunFunder does not contribute the money to these small businesses; it lends the money and charges interest. As the loan is paid back, SunFunder returns the principal to its investors. Two of the four projects are already starting to pay the money back, Mr. Levinson said.

... Demand is booming for small-scale solar-powered systems that provide light and charge cellphones. The alternative for many people in those regions is to rely on kerosene lamps to light homes and shops, which exposes them to potential harmful problems and the risk of starting a fire if a lamp is knocked over.

With the price of solar-powered technologies coming down, a solar-powered light can pay for itself in seven weeks with the money saved on kerosene, Richard Turner marketing director at at SunnyMoney, said. Since its founding, SunnyMoney has sold almost 300,000 solar-powered lights, which charge during the day and provide several hours of light at night. It hopes to hit the million mark before the end of this year.
Within a month of being listed on the SunFunder Web site, SunnyMoney's latest project, providing solar lights in the Chadiza district in Zambia, had attracted 86 investors contributing a total of $10,000.
Not only was crowdfunding quicker than negotiating a loan with a bank, it also helped SunnyMoney get its message out ....
The New York Times Green Blog
February 14, 2013

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