Fiza Farhan identified that in her homeland of Pakistan, the vast majority of poor households and some rural hospitals relied on kerosene lamps. According to the World Bank, breathing kerosene fumes is the equivalent of smoking two packets of cigarettes a day, and two-thirds of adult females with lung cancer in developing nations are nonsmokers. Kerosene lamps are widely used across Asia and Africa despite the fact that the smoke from them is responsible for acute respiratory infections like influenza and pneumonia, and leads to the death of approximately 2 million children in developing nations each year.
Thus in 2013, as CEO and co-founder of the Buksh Foundation, Farhan launched the “light a million lives” project with a goal to spread the use of safer solar lamps through an inspired micro-financing scheme. Since Buksh’s launch, 150 villages have been electrified and 37,000 households now have clean lighting. Farhan’s model is focused on providing a self-sufficient working model to finance clean energy projects for the country’s poor and underprivileged communities. Her success has led to her inclusion in Forbes’ 30 under 30 list of the world’s young business leaders tipped to make an impact on the world.
The Buksh Foundation already provided solar power solutions to offices and houses, but the “lighting a million lives” project saw it reach out to rural communities. In partnership with diverse donors including CSR-oriented corporations; development institutions like the United States Agency for International Development (USAID); famous Pakistan politician and former cricket star, Imran Khan; and international embassies, Farhan set up solar charging stations and shops for women in villages to sell solar lamps.
Farhan’s project has had a positive and direct effect on the health and well being of babies, children, and adults in the aforementioned regions. In her own words, “The impact has been amazing. Babies are healthier, and more survive birth thanks to this scheme. Also children can now read and study at night and the fear of fire has been removed, as the kerosene burned down many straw houses. This is something I could never have perceived; it is an immensely impactful but very scalable business model.”
The establishment of solar charging stations and shops for women in villages to sell solar lamps has also had a direct impact on perceptions of women in society in these regions. These women have become known as the “Roshna Bibi”—the “Light Lady”—in their villages and not only light up their communities but become key figures in it, changing attitudes toward women in a country struggling to shake off outdated and sexist stereotypes.
Furthermore, Farhan possesses a commitment to instigating further change: “We are launching more projects; another will create trainers, women will go door-to-door in their village to impart that training, giving economic empowerment, political and social rights to their community. The public sector is not delivering in so many areas of Pakistan, but social entrepreneurship can fill that void and help the country grow.”