Founder John Anderson with SunStream customers

The Ultimate Form of Energy

Author
John A. Anderson, CEO
Date
15 Jun 2016

In the fall of 2011, I found myself being ushered into a meeting of widows in a rural village in Uganda. I was traveling through Africa demonstrating my new solar cooking device, on the assumption that fumes from cook-stoves were a major “pain point” worthy of American ingenuity. And of course they are, and I could write about that, but I’ll save it for another day.

On the day of my visit, the widows were more concerned with connecting than they were with cooking. Every last one of them in that thatch-roof, dirt-floor village had cellular phones, and they were using their phones to rebuild their lives, through the many applications and platforms now available for mobile banking, education, health care, and commerce. They asked me to plug my cooking device into their phones, and when they saw their phones charging, they exclaimed, “don’t unplug it!!” In hindsight, I now know that I was witnessing “energy poverty,” the phrase we use to describe the billions who can’t flick a switch as the sun goes down, who study by candlelight and walk miles to plug their phones into roadside generators. I could write volumes about energy poverty, but this too I will save for another day.

I went back to my garage, for two years. I built a portable, durable, water submersible, affordable, powerful, personal solar panel that directly streams solar energy into mobile phones. Because it does not require a fragile chipset to convert photons to electrons (which is how most chargers work), it is virtually unbreakable. I could geek out on the patented technology, but not today.

I could toss in some trade talk, about the importance of the emerging “low carbon economy,” to which I consider World Panel a significant contributor. And I could share my commitment to the “triple bottom line,” and our work to generate fiscal, natural, and social value for our growing network of stakeholders.

In theory, I could tell you all of those things.

But we only get to meet once for the first time, and I want to tell you what is beneath it all. Before the trade talk, and the solar engineering, and the social entrepreneurship, there was the look in the widows’ eyes that day in Uganda. What I saw wasn’t need. It was power. They were happy to meet me, but they didn’t want my aid. They wanted AGENCY. And isn’t that true for all of us … that we would rather perish than lose our freedom to re-create ourselves through all of our successes and suffering, our loves and losses. Isn't this what brought me to Uganda in the first place? And isn't this the ultimate form of energy: the irrepressible human desire to learn, to evolve, to grow and to connect. World Panel is just shining a light on what was there all along.

I hope you will stay tuned to our blog and join us as our story unfolds.