Coca-Cola set the bar for marketing and distribution in the world’s most impoverished and hard-to-reach communities.
“You can walk into a village and they won’t have electricity, they won’t have medicine, but they’ll have Coke,” Heather Fleming, co-founder of Catapult Design said. “You can either try to work with Coke to distribute new technologies or find these great individuals,” she said.
One of the great individuals Fleming has in mind is Sam Dargan, an American expatriate who owns Great Lakes Energy, a low-cost solar device retailer with 142 outlets in rural Rwanda. He distributes products such as solar LEDs and clean-burning cook stoves in a region where most people earn $1 per day.
Power, and especially solar power, is little known in Rwanda. Only 6% of the general population is on the grid, and that number drops to 1% in rural areas where Dargan works.
To help make solar lanterns as popular as Coke, Dargan produces hip-hop albums.
He signed Diplomate, a Rwandan hip-hop artist, to his label, Akira Urumuri. In exchange, Diplomate scatters plugs for solar-powered LED lanterns and clean-burning cook stoves into his lyrics and on-air interviews.
Messages like his can have a deep economic impact. Solar is cleaner, healthier and cheaper than commonly used fuels such as kerosene. And lights that allow shops to stay open and students to study late could be what stand between business profits or good grades and failure.
“Power,” by Diplomate
We posted one of Diplomate’s songs with a photo slideshow to our You Tube channel.
Can hip-hop power a solar revolution?
“Radio shows are eager to receive the songs, and we find we can get one- to two-hour blocks of time for an interview with the radio host,” Dargan said. He pays $60-150 per song he cuts for undiscovered and rising stars like Diplomate. He also pays the artists a small salary to allow them time to dedicate to their music.
The music might be working. “The radio stations tell us that no other call-in segment gets so overwhelmed with calls. So, people are listening and interested,” Dargan said.
“We have observed higher traffic into our shops after radio shows, but we are not able to confirm yet if they actually increased sales. It raises awareness, certainly, which is a step in the right direction.”
The need to advertise
Appropriate technology design firms are recognizing the need for such advertising. “Even if we make the best design in the world, it doesn’t really matter if there’s no way to distribute these technologies,” Fleming said.
Catapult recently partnered with Great Lakes Energy. The design firm will create devices that solve problems in developing countries, and Dargan will advertise and sell them in Rwanda (see a brochure explaining their arrangement here(pdf]).
Catapult and Great Lakes Energy aren’t alone. Other appropriate technology developers also advertise and mount public education campaigns–Kick Start, IDE Myanmar, and D Light, to name a few.
Catapult isn’t limiting itself to Rwanda, of course, just like Dargan isn’t limiting himself to hip-hop marketing. With widespread distribution and creative advertising for clean-tech awareness, life-changing devices can enter more homes around the world.
Though it may take a while to catch up to Coca-Cola.