Ariane Umuringa, the 2017 WIA Foundation Philanthropy laureate, founded Starlight, which supplies cheap solar lights to rural and peri-urban populations without access to electricity.
Before presenting the concept of Starlight, what was your background and what made you socially involved?
I grew up in the western province of Rwanda after the genocide. At that time, less than 10 percent of the Rwandan population had access to electricity. Life was difficult. I studied at night using the light of a candle or a kerosene lamp. I think that it is when I decided to bring electricity to my area. I did not know how, but I knew I could do it. Entrepreneurship has been instilled in me from an early age. My mother had a small shop and on weekends or during the holidays, I helped her. She taught me the relationship with customers, sales techniques to convince people to buy my products.
How did the Starlight idea come about?
In high school, I was passionate about physical sciences. My research focused on the understanding nature. All the forms of energy we use come from the sun. We should use it to solve our energy problems. I decided to continue my studies in engineering. At university, I met a woman who eventually became the co-founder of Starlight. We have the same education background and share the same dream. Our idea then germinated. Initially, we thought to build a solar power station. But, after study, the costs were too high. So we looked for a more realistic idea. In 2016, we founded Starlight, a social enterprise that helps rural people living in off-grid areas by providing them with cheap solar lights.
What has Starlight achieved after nearly two years?
Our products are the first step to change the lives of young children and achieve their dreams. They are made in Rwanda with love, love for children, love for the rural population and love for those who have nothing. Our goal is to end the use of kerosene lamps in rural villages by replacing them with solar lanterns. Since the launch, we have been able to electrify more than 500 households.
You have been awarded the WIA Foundation Philanthropy Prize. What contribution has that award brought to your project?
Women In Africa Initiative supported me by enabling me to meet partners and create synergies, including with organizations (what type?). Their help brought more efficiency to my work. We are now planning to expand our customer base in Rwanda and even in neighboring countries. With our Starlight STEM program, we plan to give high school girls experimental skills in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) learning and social entrepreneurship. We hope to develop with this device a new generation of women leaders in the sciences of engineering and new technologies.