“Light of Hope”, an award-winning project developed by students from the Energy and Environmental Management in Developing Countries (EEM) programme at the University of Flensburg, helps finance schools in developing countries.
“There are very few schools in the poor coastal regions of Bangladesh, and very little money for teachers,” says DAAD scholarship holder Waliullah Bhuiyan, who had worked there for several years as an electrical engineer. Disheartened by this situation, Waliullah Bhuiyan decided to help change it.
While still trying to come up with a solution, Bhuiyan noticed that mobile telephones were quite prevalent even among the country’s poorer population. “It’s fairly affordable to have a mobile in my home country,” he explains. “What’s missing is electricity and charging stations.” For this reason, people often have to walk as long as three hours to get to the next village to charge their phones for a fee. Waliullah Bhuiyan came up with a business idea that would benefit everyone – a school fitted with photovoltaics that would serve as a charging station for the community. The collected fees would then be used to finance teacher salaries over the long term.
Teamwork spells success
With the desire to put his idea into practice, during his studies in Flensburg, Waliullah Bhuiyan told the environmental engineer and DAAD scholarship holder Tripti Prajapati from Nepal about his idea. He did not stop with there. He told his entire Innovation and Management course about it. “A team of us spent our free time talking about the idea with our instructor, and slowly it started taking shape.” The rest is history. The Flensburg students submitted their “Light of Hope” project to the 2013 Dell Education Challenge competition and were awarded third prize in the amount of EUR 1800 –start-up capital to make their innovative idea a reality.
Thanks to the prize money, the very first school with a photovoltaic installation will be opening this May in Bangladesh. The University of Flensburg supports the project, which has now been integrated into the programme curriculum. “We research the mechanisms of turning smart ideas into successful business solutions,” says Professor Bernd Möller, Chairman of the EEM programme. “And we encourage our students to put their ideas into practice.” The students are currently exploring the possibility of securing long-term financing for the project through donations. The support is scheduled to continue after Waliullah Bhuiyan and Tripti Prajapati graduate in the summer of 2014. “Our goal is to integrate the ‘Light of Hope’ project into what we do here at the university and research its progress,” says Bernd Möller. For future students, the project will serve as a model for sustainable start-ups – members of the prize-winning team are already working on a similar project for Kenya.
Confident looking forward
The two scholarship holders are confident that the project will continue and flourish. “My studies in Flensburg and the attention our ideas received – that has really changed my life. It’s given me lots of confidence,” says Tripti Prajapati. Waliullah Bhuiyan agrees, noting the perfect timing of it all. “This chance came at a very critical point in my life when I needed a vision for the future,” he says. “Now I have one.”