Goal Zero brings solar
power to African villages,
and your backpack
By Teri Cettina
MOST ENTREPRENEURS start their companies for business reasons. Later, they may
adopt a good cause as a way of giving back to
Robert Workman flipped that axiom on its
head: He started with a good cause, then spun
a great business out of his innovative charity.
In 2005, after 30 years at the helm of
a highly successful Utah arts-and-crafts business, Workman sold his company and
planned to become a full-time philanthropist.
A chance meeting led him to explore charity
efforts in the Democratic Republic of the
Congo. Workman was so moved by poverty,
illiteracy and health issues in that African
region that he founded a nonprofit organization, Teaching Individuals and Families
Independence through Enterprise (TIFIE,
www.tifie.org), to focus on this area. The goal:
Create new local businesses and decrease
poverty by putting families to work.
Through TIFIE, Workman
helped establish a number of new
Congolese companies. But a core
issue nagging at him was creating
sustainable power and lighting. For
much of the year, the Congo is dark
from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Many villages,
lacking electricity, virtually shut
down for 12 hours.
“Crime increases at night. Work
grinds to a halt. Children can’t study,
unless by firelight,” notes Workman.
And with no power, even during daylight
hours villagers can’t refrigerate food and
medicine, or get immediate news of the outside world.
Bringing traditional electric power to
these remote towns would have been prohibitively expensive, so Workman explored solar
power—sunlight being an abundant natural
resource in Africa. His team also focused on
shrinking the size of solar panels so they’d be
“I tell our staff all the
time—it’s sort of our
motto—when you do
good, you get good. It’s
Above: Professional angler Jarrett
Edwards charges his phone with a Goal
Zero kit—and the power of the sun—at
Lake Powell, Utah.
easier and cheaper to move and use.
“Our initial goal was simply to power one
school in the Congo,” recalls Workman. But
before long, he and TIFIE developed a
broader concept: Light a Village. TIFIE subsidized half the cost of bringing its new, compact solar systems to a pilot Congolese village,
and required townspeople to pay the other
half. So far, Light a Village has solar-powered
the homes of a half-dozen African communities, bringing light to some 55 homes.
Also, sales and installation jobs have been
turned over to local residents.
Just as important, the program is serving
as a model for other communities in developing countries, and it’s expected that the concept will expand quickly, now that people
can clearly see its benefits.
“Along the way to ‘saving the world,’
as we saw it, we realized we also had a
miraculous consumer product in our
portable solar devices,” Workman says.
Outdoor enthusiasts and environmental advocates, as well as emergency-preparedness teams working in
blackouts and natural disasters, could
all benefit from the portable systems.
Goal Zero, the corporation, was born.