It’s Holiday Season – Time for Gifts of Light and Power

Here in the U.S. as the year draws to a close, we celebrate several major holidays that embrace themes of light, power and empowerment, depending on our religious affiliations. As the days shorten, and the sun disappears in the afternoon, we depend increasingly on lights — preferably energy-efficient LEDs — to power our way through the dark and shine a path for our future, both literally and figuratively. The holidays are also a time for gift giving, and for hilarious stories about good intentions gone awry.

This is also a time of year to remember those who go without life’s necessities. For those of us who focus on bringing power to the quarter of the world who lack reliable electricity (or to the 1.2 billion people who don’t have access to power at all), 2015 has been a year of immense change and hope, as shown by the UN’s adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 7 — to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all the world’s people.

Our wish list for the energy access gift bag still has some items on it:

  • Adoption of Goal 7 now should lead to implementation through Sustainable Energy for All — concerted action by the international community to bring the benefits of electricity to homes and communities that now lack them, whether by extending national grids, ideally using lower-carbon technologies, or via mini-grid and off-grid solutions.
  • We need stepped-up financing for the many companies and non-profits delivering millions of small-scale packages — affordable solar home systems, solar lights and other renewable energy technologies — all over the world. Children need them not just to make their holidays bright, but to help them study, provide health and support their parents in making a living, whether by farming or operating a small business. These energy practitioners don’t have access to Santa’s sleigh — they use 4x4s, donkeys and even, perhaps in the future, solar-powered drones to deliver these solutions to remote and rural areas of the world.
  • We also need more gifts for refugees and victims of humanitarian disasters, where market mechanisms are disrupted, to support those who have lost everything and are trying to rebuild. These can range from the very simple to more complex community and health solutions, and also include special gifts delivered by and for women.

Some gifts each year are duds. Here’s what we don’t need from Santa’s bag:

  • We don’t need low-quality products that look good in the store window but break the first time you use them, and don’t come with the instructions, or a service guarantee. Cheap and shoddy solar products abound in certain countries, where more focus should be given to the great work that has been done on quality assurance, to eliminate the fakes entirely. Nothing is more expensive than products that don’t work. They also undermine companies that work hard all year to package, sell and service solutions that do work.
  • We don’t need well-intended gifts that end up being recycled (at best) or tossed in the garbage after something goes wrong — like solar systems given to poor families without the ability to get a replacement battery, without a warranty to return or replace the system, or without the support of a company that will fix it. Too often, gifts of solar home systems fail in a short time without these mechanisms for ongoing maintenance.
  • We don’t need more gadgets masquerading as solutions. They may look cute or clever — but do they make sense? In this category are lights that have to be pulled, pushed, kicked, or pedaled to provide power. Lights and power should reduce a woman’s workload and not require child labor to keep the lights or TV on at night.

At this season of light and life, please support our global work to help make energy access — light and power for life, across the world — a reality all year long for those who need these solutions most. The solutions are there, they are affordable and energy access for all is a gift that is within our collective reach.

Richenda Van Leeuwen
Executive Director for Energy Access
United Nations Foundation

United Nations Foundation

The United Nations Foundation builds public-private partnerships to address the world’s most pressing problems, and broadens support for the United Nations through advocacy and public outreach. Through innovative campaigns and initiatives, the Foundation connects people, ideas, and resources to help the UN solve global problems. The Foundation was created in 1998 as a U.S. public charity by entrepreneur and philanthropist Ted Turner and now is supported by global corporations, foundations, governments, and individuals.

Energy Access Practitioner Network

As a part of the Sustainable Energy for All initiative, the UN Foundation-led Energy Access Practitioner Network promotes universal access to modern energy services. With more than 2,000 members, the Network focuses on decentralized low-carbon household and community-level electrification. It supports innovative financial and business models in predominantly market-based applications that also help address development issues related to income generation, health, agriculture, education, small business, and telecommunications.

For more information, visit