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In the Insanity of CES, One Company Is Trying to Bring Electricity to Refugees

WakaWaka donates portable chargers to help combat energy poverty.
January 7, 2016, 9:36pm
Image: Nicholas Deleon/Motherboard

A Dutch company is using the chaos of the Consumer Electronics Showcase to draw attention to the world's refugee crisis.

WakaWaka (the name means "shine bright" in Swahili) makes a series of solar-powered portable chargers that can be used to recharge most USB devices, including smartphones and tablets, and that also function as LED flashlights.

What makes the company more interesting than the other portable chargers on the market is the slight twist in its business model: For every device that's bought (at $79 apiece) WakaWaka sends a free one to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a humanitarian aid organization that supports refugees with health, education, and other social services.

The goal of its "buy one, give one" model, the company told me here at CES, is to help people around the world who don't have access to reliable lighting.

"The average American is not aware of energy poverty, though many UN agencies and NGOs have been working on the issue for decades," WakaWaka CEO Jehmu Greene told me. "We're looking at around 3 billion people around the world who are affected by energy poverty. This company was founded to help bring light and power to the places that need it most."

During CES, the company will also donate up to 1,000 LED flashlights to the IRC for every Twitter and Instagram selfie containing the hashtag "#ShareTheSun" in which the subject closes their eyes (to simulate the effects of not having access to reliable lighting). More than 200 images have been shared through midday Thursday, WakaWaka told me.

"People deserve access to reliable power and energy," WakaWaka co-founder Camille van Gestel told me. "It doesn't matter if they live on $2 a day or $2,000 a day, they deserve access and that's why we're here."