Mission & History


The Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) uses the power of the sun to fight poverty and climate change.

Energy access is at the root of some of our biggest global inequities—from education to food security to public health. SELF works with communities around the world to establish solar projects, with a focus on environmental justice, community ownership, and scalable outcomes.


SELF was founded in 1990 by Neville Williams, who had previously promoted photovoltaics under the Carter administration. For much of the 90’s, SELF’s focus was installing and financing solar home systems for individual families in Asia, with the goal of establishing a business model for supplying locally-maintained solar systems. After implementing nearly a dozen projects across three continents, Williams left SELF in 1997 to launch a spin-off, for-profit company called the Solar Electric Light Company (SELCO).  

Bob Freling, SELF’s Director of International Programs from 1995 to 1997, stepped into the role of Executive Director after Williams’ departure. He could see that if SELF were going to truly help eradicate energy poverty, we would have to think bigger than home solar systems. Freling then spearheaded an all-encompassing approach to reflect the widespread impacts of energy poverty. The direction SELF took—the Whole Village Development Model—is an integrated philosophy that harnesses energy from the sun to improve access to resources like health care, education, and agricultural systems. 

The first project completed under this rubric in 2001 was a solar-powered computer lab at Myeka High School in Maphephethe, South Africa—considered the first of its kind. Outfitted with computers, printers, copiers, VCR’s, televisions, and more, student enrollment soared by 40%.  

SELF’s installation of a solar home system in Tibet in the 1990’s brought smiles to this nomad family enjoying nighttime lighting and radio programming for the first time in their lives.

Since Maphephethe’s success, SELF has continued to develop new approaches for solving complex problems using solar. Building a solar array deep in the Amazon allowed Indigenous groups to access telemedicine and store vaccines. Bringing solar to northern Nigeria helped power new businesses and expand commerce. Installing solar in rural Bhutan offered residents resources and options for education, while preserving a delicate local environment.

Across dozens of projects and countries, we’ve seen how energy plants the seed for new opportunity. All of SELF’s projects are community-driven, ensuring local needs are honored and met. Our projects also meet high standards of replicability and scalability, allowing other organizations and governments to adopt and expand our concepts. 

Today, SELF continues to grow its impact around the world. We thank you for being part of our journey and supporting projects that make a difference. 

Image description

SELF is a global leader in the fight against energy poverty. Since 1990, we’ve pioneered unique applications for solar energy, powering progress on food security, health care, education, gender equity, and more. 

501(c)(3) non-profit organization EIN: 52-1701564

Contact Us

2021 L Street NW Suite 101-344
Washington, DC 20036

+1 (202) 234-7265