Mission & History
SELF designs and implements solar projects for disadvantaged communities around the world to advance their levels of healthcare, education, water and food security, and economic development.
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 China and other countries in Asia. Those systems generated enough power to run a few compact florescent lights, and one or two small appliances for four to five hours each evening. SELF’s goal was to establish a business model for supplying these solar systems that could be self-sustained in communities over the long term—one that would eventually pave the way for the commercialization of solar home systems in the developing world. After achieving 11 self-sustaining home solar energy projects throughout Asia, Africa, and South America, Williams left SELF in 1997 to launch a spin-off, for-profit company called the Solar Electric Light Company (SELCO). Based in Bangalore, India, it continues to thrive today.
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 throughout the developing world, we would have to think bigger than individual, home solar systems. Instead, we needed to make the needs of entire communities SELF’s priority through an intensive, all-encompassing approach. The direction we took—the Whole Village Development Model—is an integrated philosophy to community empowerment that harnesses energy from the sun to provide solutions that can make access to resources like healthcare, education, and food security a reality.
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 in the developing world. Outfitted with computers, printers, copiers, VCR’s, televisions, and more—all powered by a large solar electrical array—student enrollment soared by 40%, and graduation rates increased by nearly 15%. Since Maphephethe’s success, SELF has created a variety of innovative approaches to solving problems in all community sectors. All of them share high levels of sustainability, replicability, and scalability where they can be adopted by other NGOs, governments, and companies—expanding the reach of our concepts around the world.
SELF.org - Powering a brighter 21st century.
Since 1990, SELF has completed projects in more than 25 countries and pioneered unique applications of solar power such as for drip irrigation in Benin, health care in Haiti, telemedicine in the Amazon rain forest, online learning in South Africa and microenterprise development in Nigeria.
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