In the age of Enron and Goldman Sachs, one might think that there is little social responsibility left in today’s corporate world. Thankfully though, social enterprise is alive and well. The act of social enterprise goes beyond a company merely having a social objective. Social enterprises and their goals (often social or environmental) differ from commercial businesses because their social purpose remains central to their operation with their commercial enterprises existing to maintain that social agenda.
And in Madagascar, one women’s ingenuity is bringing the idea of social enterprise to the island. Becky Barber, a student at the University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom, recently designed solar powered bamboo radios
Barber was inspired to develop a cottage industry for the citizens of Madagascar after watching her parents perform charity work there for 26 years.
“Over two thirds of the population exist below the poverty line, earning around £1 per day,” Barber explained, ”So I have been really motivated to develop a project that would use the education I have been lucky enough to enjoy, and the resources of the University, to provide opportunities for those not so lucky.”
Barber knew that the bamboo plant was plentiful on Madagascar but ways of communication were not. Previously, she had met with aid organizations in the area and discovered that they had little means to communicate with remote villages. Because of that, it was difficult to give important health updates, national news or to maintain an education channel. So she developed these Solar Powered Bamboo Radios that use the lightweight and tough bamboo to encase an inexpensive, solar-powered radio. She even developed two models, a desktop version and a portable one.
Of the use of bamboo, Barber says, “The idea is that by using sustainable and naturally occurring resources in the construction of the radios, we can provide jobs and opportunities for people in Madagascar.”
Because the bamboo is so plentiful, Barber is confident that she can keep production costs low enough to create a strong cottage industry in the poverty-stricken country.
“If this takes off we could establish workshops in the country, provide good salaries, and put the means of production into their hands.”
While her industry will remain in the country, her target customers are worldwide. She hopes that aid organizations will be able to purchase them at lower prices to use in remote areas while higher-end models will retail for slightly more in England to generate further capital for funding of this social enterprise project.
Meanwhile, Barber cannot say enough good things about the amazing bamboo plant: “Bamboo is an amazing material – it has many of the properties of a hard wood but takes a fraction of the time to grow. And because of its natural structure, it produces a fantastic sonorous quality.
And kudos are pouring in for her project already. It recently won her the Social Enterprise Award at the University of Plymouth’s Business Ideas Challenge, along with $364.00 and a comprehensive support package.
For more on how Bamboo is changing the world, visit Green Earth News’ section on Bamboo’s Worldwide Impact. And if you have no use for bamboo encased radios, treat yourself to a luxurious bamboo sheet set or a beautiful bamboo dress from Green Earth Bamboo.