Thursday, November 14, 2013

What is development?

Our goal is to build solar panels to power water pumps and light homes at night. Why? Because we're told that people spend hours and hours every single day going back and forth from the river to collect water, and they have to do it during daylight hours.

While labor is an important input to any economy, capital can free up labor to do more productive things. In layman's terms, technology does the chores, and gives people the free time to do things like perform paid labor, pursue higher education, or learn a skill.

An excellent explanation of this comes from Hans Rosling's popular TED Talk about his gratitude for the washing machine.


  1. You are spot-on economically speaking. The question is whether solar is the way to go. For a place that gets a lot of sun, it could work really well. Not saying it's the wrong approach but I would be interested in a debate on the subject.

    Great work, glad to see you are making a difference.

    1. Solar's a particularly good option, we think, because the solar panels are actually really simple to manufacture. In terms of the washing machine paradigm, the time spent not washing clothes can be time now spent getting paid to build solar panels. Additionally, importing solar panels is extremely expensive, but importing the parts and building them here is cheap. (Numbers on this will come as I learn more about this myself, but that's the general picture.)

      Of course, there are a number of other options for electricity: hydro, fossil, wind, etc. Each of these has high fixed costs associated. Ethiopia doesn't have very good access to credit, and the government already owes the world USD 11 billion - I believe that's about a fifth of its annual GDP. A solar panel in someone's yard or on their roof? Cheap, hyper-localized, very beneficial, no need for the government to take any action. Just the way my favorite libertarian would want it!