Throwing light on reading: A new gizmo could help literacy in Third World

April 03, 2002

Wed Apr 3 2002 

Page: D3 

Section: Business 

Byline: Kelly Egan 

Source: The Ottawa Citizen 

Glen MacGillivray has developed the Edulight, a self-contained system that uses solar power and new lighting technology in a small reading lamp. The Third World would be better educated, Glen MacGillivray is convinced, if it could only see better. 

To that end, the Petawawa businessman has come up with what he calls the Edulight, a self-contained system that uses solar power and new lighting technology in a small reading lamp. For about $100, the unit comes with a bill-sized solar panel, rechargeable batteries and a lighting unit with six tiny lights. The bulbs last a lifetime and the only maintenance required, perhaps once every five years, is new batteries. 

The potential market is enormous. The United Nations estimates that one-third of the world's population, or two billion people, lives without access to electricity. 

"Hundreds of millions of people live within 500 kilometres of the equator and don't have access to lights," said Mr. MacGillivray. But they have access to the sun. 

As a pilot project, he sent 10 of his Edulights with a group of students from two Eastern Ontario high schools who just returned on the weekend from a humanitarian mission to El Salvador. Members of a Rotary-sponsored club called Interact, the 20 students, from General Panet High School in Petawawa and General Vanier Secondary School in Cornwall, undertook an ambitious list of aid work during their nine-day trip. 

In a feverish criss-crossing of the country, they painted part of an orphanage, planted new gardens, installed irrigation systems, operated a medical clinic, delivered medical supplies and planted dozens of fruit trees. 

The 10 lights were left with a Rotarian in the Latin American country who will find test homes for the units and arrange for ongoing feedback. 

Mr. MacGillivray, 44, a metallurgist by training, is the founder of Glenergy Inc., which is developing a number of products using light-emitting diodes, the familiar red, green and yellow lights found on virtually every electronic device. It was only in the mid-1990s that scientists were able to produce a white LED producing an intense light, but using very little power. 

LEDs consume only about one-10th the power of incandescent lights but last perhaps 100 times longer. Mr. MacGillivray believes the technology has enormous possibilities in developing literacy in poorer countries. 

"I think we can make a real difference with these things. Think what a difference 40,000 hours of reading could make." 

He doesn't see himself as a global, mass producer of the Edulight but rather as someone who would bring the idea to the broader market. In May, he is planning to travel to South Africa where he is seeking partners interested in setting up an assembly plant there, perhaps a solar-powered one. 

"We're hoping we can generate some political will so that our government sees the sensibility of light as a form of foreign aid."