Maria Caluag, Cosas Autosuficientes
Most of us Americans know that the small choices we make in what we buy can make big difference in the world outside of the USA. The aware, and educated American knows that our collective buying power could create new economic opportunities for workers in the developing world, plus influence businesses to make the right choices about sustainable practices respecting human rights over maximizing profits. But the majority of imports from the developing world tend to be foods, apparel, and handicrafts. It is hard to find a finished good that is not made in China. Thrive Solar Lanterns, which are produced in India, Kenya and Ghana, is breaking that status quo.
When I want to find a product made outside of the USA, it is not hard to find products with the sticker, “made in China.” In the San Francisco Bay Area where I live, I am able to find grapes from Chile and papayas from Mexico. At Starbucks, where I am composing this article at the moment, there are murals on the walls displaying coffee farmers and picturesque coffee bean farms. Many of the coffee bean packages you see claim sustainable farming practices – leaving you as the customer feeling good about consuming coffee from Starbucks.
In the Bay Area you will also find a chain of stores called Cost Plus World Market. In those stores I can find imported rugs handcrafted from India, or baskets from Vietnam. In another set of stores called Whole Foods Market, I can find chocolate bars from Central America and Tanzania.
Fair Trade USA is headquartered across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco in the city of Oakland. The products they label as fair trade tend to be foods like wines, teas, and coffee. Food products outnumber the other imports they certify, like apparel and body care products.
I challenge you to look around for imports that are not related to foods or handicrafts. I bet you will come to my same conclusion: that imports of manufactured goods from the developing world are hard to find, especially technology goods. It seems to send the message that the developing countries are only capable of producing simple products, or that their place in the world is to feed us rich nations agricultural goods like chocolates and coffees.
This is why I am very proud of Thrive Solar Lanterns. It is a solar powered flashlight of sorts that us Americans could use everyday for our emergency kits or for when we go out camping. But more importantly, it is not “made in China.” It is made in developing countries like India, Kenya and Ghana. Have you ever seen a sticker with “Made in Kenya” before?
A decline in the terms of trade means the price of exports falls relative to imports. Many developing countries can be at a disadvantage when it comes to terms of trade because they normally rely on exporting raw materials and agricultural goods rather than manufactured goods. For example, their exports may concentrate on crude oil, coffee beans, bananas, minerals, and the like. These commodities may not offer the same buying power as manufactured goods, like the TVs, computers, and cars from developed nations.
Realizing this, economists Prebisch and Singer coined the term “trade gap” – a situation in which a poor country remains at a disadvantage because it has to export more and more in order to keep up with affording the higher cost imports. For example, a country that relies on the export of bananas may have to trade more and more of it in order to pay for imports like tractors and fertilizers.
In the realm of technology, no matter where you are shopping in the world, you are likely to find cell phones and tablets made in China, flat screen TVs made in Eastern Europe, and cars made in Japan. With regards to the up and coming solar technology, much of the solar devices in the market are manufactured in Shenzhen, China. This is why Thrive solar lanterns are special – they are high-tech, green-tech products made right out of India, Kenya and Ghana.
Now, one product alone cannot give India, Kenya and Ghana enough to tip over to the winning side of the trade gap, but it certainly helps.
Like the mobile phones, TVs and cars out there that are mass produced for export, Thrive solar lanterns, too, are mass produced. Since 2007, more than 3.5 million of their solar lanterns were produced for sale in 15 developing countries. In 2015, they entered the American market via Amazon.
The original customer base of Thrive Solar Lanterns use the lights out of necessity, being that they live off the grid or only have unreliable access to electricity. In America, they are being sold as a useful camping lantern or as a flashlight for emergency kits. In the developing world, the lanterns go for about US$2 – affordable enough for those that earn around US$2.50 per day.The solar lanterns retail for about US$15 for Americans on Amazon because of overhead (shipment costs and taxes).
There are 2.3 billion people who suffer from energy poverty with no access to reliable electricity outside of the USA. This represents a huge demand for alternative energy products like the Thrive solar lantern.
Thrive Solar Energy has received the honor of the World Bank and IFC’s Lighting Africa Development Marketplace Competition in 2006 and 2008. In 2009, it received the Lighting Tanzania award in partnership with Zara Solar Ltd., Tanzania. In 2012, Thrive was recognized by a local Indian affiliate of CNBC as an “Emerging Socially Responsible Small-Medium Enterprise of the Year” Award for its community empowerment business model and for its policy to employ women.
All these honors come not only because Thrive is a social-enterprise, but because it is manufacturing a product that is in need all over the world. Buy the solar lanterns not because you feel sorry for the countries from which it came from, but because it will be useful to you.