Alumni facilitating economic development
in emerging economies
Ryan Kelley, MBA ’09:Our Man in Madagascar
Several years ago, the eastern U.S. plunged into darkness when the power grid abruptly failed. By and large, Madagascar doesn’t have to worry about such problems; 80 percent of the country lacks electric power. Most residents cook with wood stoves and light their huts with candles or kerosene lamps. Unfortunately, as these devices burn, they fill huts with noxious gases that cause upper respiratory diseases that account for 21 percent of hospital visits. “If you or I were sitting in that room, our eyes would be tearing and our throats would be burning,” says Ryan Kelley, who handles solar sales in Madagascar for ToughStuff, a European company that hopes to transform the island nation through solar power.
Kelley’s company wants to leapfrog fossil and nuclear power solutions, and take many of Madagascar’s residents directly into the alternative-energy age. ToughStuff ’s principle product is a solarpowered LED light, which sells for $22.50 and is tough enough to function after falling from a six-story building.
The light helps cut indoor air pollution, provides better illumination for students, and allows women to create home-based businesses in the evening hours. However, even at its modest price, the product is beyond the financial reach of many households, so there are unusual payment plans available. Some people pay off the device at $3 a month. Others, who live a hand-to-mouth existence, can make daily payments of ten cents. “They go to their field, harvest part of their crop, sell it at the market, and earn enough to cover their daily costs,” says Kelley. The potential market for solar lights is enormous. “There are 1.4 billion people in the world with primitive lighting.” ToughStuff also sells low-priced rechargeable batteries and cell phone chargers. A low-pollution stove is in development.
The business was perfect for Kelley, who wanted a job that combined social responsibility and business. “ToughStuff aligns my personal and professional goals. I found something where I can make a respectable living and make a large impact on the world.”