Lighting Africa, a project that Dr. Murphy mentioned briefly in her presentation, aims to create a market for high-quality and fairly-priced electric goods. It is a joint project between the IMF and the World Bank, and it functions in Kenya, Ghana, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Senegal, and Mali. The key focus of this organization is to inspire the countries’ private sectors to mobilize at the chance of making money in a market for off-grid lighting projects. As part of its approach, the group works to lower all types of entry barriers to trade in the off-grid lighting market. To do so, the program works together with local political and business leaders, manufacturers, consumers, and other major players in the areas. This contact with local populations helps to establish Lighting Africa’s credibility and to help them spread the word about the market.
This organization’s main focus on stimulating a private market surprised me, because I can think of few other aid groups or NGOs that focus on such broad market-oriented approaches. It seems to me that most organizations are focused more on the humanitarian side of development activities – providing basic goods, educating and training, and generally aiming to increase empowerment among individuals. And of development activities that do focus on “capitalist” development programs, most of these focus on relatively small and specialized projects, such as micro-loans. In any case, Lighting Africa’s attempt to create markets across a wide swathe of land was an approach that was new to me.
I am conflicted over my feelings on this project. One one hand, I do think that helping the spread of cheaper, more energy-efficient, and “cleaner” lighting in Africa is an important cause and an issue that definitely needs to be addressed. I also personally think that establishing a market system to promote Lighting Africa and other similar initiatives is currently the most sustainable way to keep the organization’s goals in place and help the changes spread to new locations. But I am also skeptical about any organization’s ability to guide part of an economy that is already firmly in place. I’m wondering, are these market-based any better than traditional approaches to development? What are the benefits and draw-backs to this type of approach? How could programs like Lighting Africa be made more effective?