Listen to Your End Users for Affordable and Viable Impact
When do the most innovative ideas hit us? Isaac Newton discovered the Theory of Gravity when an apple fell on his head. Three centuries later, Albert Einstein formulated the Theory of Relativity after he fell off a chair. For problem-solvers, creativity and innovation flow comes to them at some of the most unsuspecting moments in life. Young entrepreneur and empowering people. Award (epAward) winner, Eden Full Goh had an epiphany at a school science project when she was just 10. She pursued her vision through high school, university and now supports 17,000 people across 19 countries with renewable energy technology SunSaluter. Read her interview for some inspiring tips on realizing your vision to serve a global community.
How did you come about creating SunSaluter?
Growing up in Alberta, Canada where oil is a large part of the economic culture, I became interested in renewable energy technologies when I was 10. I started work on SunSaluter as my high school science fair project. Initially, there was no direct financial support, but I continued my research into developing a low-cost solar panel rotating mechanism as an extracurricular activity when I was a student at Princeton University. In 2011, I received a Thiel Fellowship to focus on starting an organization to scale SunSaluter’s impact. This opportunity allowed me to take SunSaluter from an idea to something that was viable on a larger scale, and it allowed me to set up an organization.
We mitigated these by hiring local people and engaging with local volunteers who have a better sense of the culture and community. In India, one of our team members suggested moving our headquarters to the region he comes from, and that enabled a much greater uptake. Since he already had deep personal connections within the community, this made it much easier to build trust and relationships.
For teams working remotely, it is just hard to know all updates at all times, which creates communication challenges. We worked on this by being very intentional about our communications and tweaking them regularly based on needs.
Local Team of SunSaluter volunteers in India. (Photo credit: SunSaluter)
You have switched to an open-source-model. What are the benefits?
We have impacted thousands of people with SunSaluter, but we want to impact millions! As a small organization, we don’t have the energy or capacity to do that. We’ve already seen how easily people have copied the concept, so it made sense to make it open source so others can improve on it for themselves and their communities, and become experts! The benefit is reaching more people so they can have improved quality of life and the environment overall benefits from more solar power.
- Make things as simple as possible for you and the users. So that the beneficiaries can install and use the device with their limitted resources and without many hiccups.
- Be strategic about the kinds of advice you follow. Many of our advisors tried to recommend that SunSaluter should incorporate as a for-profit company. We felt that trying to create a profitable manufacturing business would be too much of a distraction from our core social mission.