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The iPod for Development

Kirsten Spainhower's picture

Photo Courtesy of Lifeline EnergyThe Lifeplayer is being billed as the new iPod for development. Kristine Pearson Lifeline Energy CEO, believes that this device will enable rural populations to leap across the digital divide and access vital information in ways they could hardly have imagined.

 

The Lifeplayer is an oversized MP3 device that can be pre-loaded to hold 64GB of educational content. It can also download audio content from the internet or record live voice or radio programs for playback later. With a wireless solar panel and a hand-wound crank, the Lifeplayer can even be used to charge mobile phones.

 

Back in 2006, Development Marketplace winner Lifeline Energy (then Freeplay) introducedthe Weza Generator a foot-powered portable energy source, offering power of up to 12v anywhere and at anytime. The project successfully trained hundreds of Weza Pioneers to start their own rural energy businesses and provide valuable community services.

 

Though the Weza Generator is no longer available, it provided a platform for the production of a range of innovative products addressing the need for lighting and durable radios in rural areas through the use of environmentally friendly technologies. Read more about Lifeline Energy and the launch of their new product the Lifeplayer recently featured in Fast Company

Comments

Submitted by Anonymous on
I am a bit skeptical of this type of project, mainly because I believe it doesn't serve the interest of the poor end users. On the contrary it benefits rich people. Whether they are actors who benefit from the publicity of being involved with such entreprise or business man smart enough to funnel aid money into producing absolutly non-competitive products and whose usefulness is hardly demonstrable. Although the intentions appear to be good, I don't accept that aid money is given to promote these products. I seriously doubt that the beneficiary is the poor African end-user. Instead, it is the company producing these uncompetitive products that is most probably profiting. Why should these companies be subsidized? I saw on their website that the Lifeplayer costs $120. That is a pretty high price for such a device. It would be interesting to know, why it bears such a price tag. Is it because of the components used? The labour cost? By the way, where were the components sourced from? Where was the device assembled? What is the premium ? I haven't found answers to these questions on the website. Finally, if profits are made on these devices, who benefits from it? So who is happy in this business? Is it really the poor kid in SSA who's been handed this bulky radio without ever been asked whether he needed one in the first place? Or is it the people behind the production and marketing of these products? If these people are from high income countries, this whole enterprise is then about self-promotion and creating jobs where there are already plenty of at least relative to Africa. Even if these products have been produced in a low-income poor country, because it is financed by aid money it makes them unfairly competitive thereby contradicting the laws of the market. My conclusion is that this sort of enterprise should not exist !

Submitted by Kristine Pearson on
Dear Anonymous   Thank you for your comments and I am happy to reply, since I'm the person who was behind both the Lifeline radio, which was the first radio developed for the humanitarian sector and has been used by 10 million listeners, and the Lifeplayer. You raise many questions which I will endeavour to answer.    You will have seen that the Lifeline radio has benefited the poorest and most vulnerable – children, women and refugees. We created the Lifeline radio in the first place to ensure that orphaned children would have sustained radio access, allowing them to hear practical information that could help them improve their lives and make more informed choices and decisions. Hundreds of thousands of these children are destitute and live in conditions that most cannot imagine. Educational and life skills radio programming is widely available in Africa, but without a working radio, they can’t hear it. These children have no money and are unable to buy radios or the toxic batteries that power them.   Not only were children asked whether they wanted or needed radios, in fact, I worked with orphaned children in Rwanda, South Africa and Kenya for two years to develop the Lifeline radio with features that the children specifically asked to be included. Never have I been in a community with children or adults where they did not ask for more radios.    Our principal business model is not to ‘sell’ to end users directly. Lifeline Energy is a charity and that is not how we operate.  Rather, we work with development agencies, the UN, local charities and other institutions to integrate Lifeplayers and Prime radios into humanitarian projects for emergency relief or ongoing development. Fortunately, many generous individuals donate via our website, because they wish to fund a Lifeplayer for a school or community. The Lifeplayer is intended for classroom or group use, not individuals.  Therefore, the cost is amortized over many listeners, making it highly cost effective.    Despite it being relatively straightforward to use, the Lifeplayer is robustly engineered because it must operate over time in harsh, rough climates and conditions. We worked thoughtfully for over two years on the design brief to ensure that it would have the range of features requested by our local partners, who had been asking for a radio with a cassette feature for years. We ensured that the Lifeplayer would not only be able to hold years worth of content, but also that content could be updated using a microSD card via a mobile phone or the Internet.  It also can charge a cell phone (many women walk up to six hours to charge up their phones in sub-Saharan Africa). This is a sophisticated tool made for large group listening of 60 or more people, and if one tried to put all these features together separately, it would cost at least twice as much and not be designed for rugged use.   We have long considered manufacturing realities, and it would not be possible to manufacture a complex product outside of Asia, bearing in mind cost considerations.    As part of the Internet’s growth, people across the globe are sharing their knowledge and creating content from which we all can learn.  At Lifeline Energy, we believe that the Lifeplayer will expand access to that wealth of information for even the poorest among us. Using the Lifeplayer, even the extremely poor will be able to access information on everything from disease prevention, to financial literacy, to skills training, to microfinance, to math and science.  Farmers can access programming on improving crop yields, the safe use of pesticides and market prices. The list is endless and limited only by imagination.  Having worked in the development arena on the ground for 12 years, one of the things I realise and appreciate is that there is not a one-size fits all model.  Given the scale and depth of poverty in Africa where I work, many approaches are needed.   I hope that you understand more about the Lifeplayer now and if you would like to send me your email address, I would be more than happy to engage you further.   Kind regards   Kristine Pearson CEO Lifeline Energy

Submitted by Kristine Pearson on
Dear Anonymous   Thank you for your comments and I am happy to reply, since I'm the person who was behind both the Lifeline radio, which was the first radio developed for the humanitarian sector and has been used by 10 million listeners, and the Lifeplayer. You raise many questions which I will endeavour to answer.    You will have seen that the Lifeline radio has benefited the poorest and most vulnerable – children, women and refugees. We created the Lifeline radio in the first place to ensure that orphaned children would have sustained radio access, allowing them to hear practical information that could help them improve their lives and make more informed choices and decisions. Hundreds of thousands of these children are destitute and live in conditions that most cannot imagine. Educational and life skills radio programming is widely available in Africa, but without a working radio, they can’t hear it. These children have no money and are unable to buy radios or the toxic batteries that power them.   Not only were children asked whether they wanted or needed radios, in fact, I worked with orphaned children in Rwanda, South Africa and Kenya for two years to develop the Lifeline radio with features that the children specifically asked to be included. Never have I been in a community with children or adults where they did not ask for more radios.    Our principal business model is not to ‘sell’ to end users directly. Lifeline Energy is a charity and that is not how we operate.  Rather, we work with development agencies, the UN, local charities and other institutions to integrate Lifeplayers and Prime radios into humanitarian projects for emergency relief or ongoing development. Fortunately, many generous individuals donate via our website, because they wish to fund a Lifeplayer for a school or community. The Lifeplayer is intended for classroom or group use, not individuals.  Therefore, the cost is amortized over many listeners, making it highly cost effective.    Despite it being relatively straightforward to use, the Lifeplayer is robustly engineered because it must operate over time in harsh, rough climates and conditions. We worked thoughtfully for over two years on the design brief to ensure that it would have the range of features requested by our local partners, who had been asking for a radio with a cassette feature for years. We ensured that the Lifeplayer would not only be able to hold years worth of content, but also that content could be updated using a microSD card via a mobile phone or the Internet.  It also can charge a cell phone (many women walk up to six hours to charge up their phones in sub-Saharan Africa). This is a sophisticated tool made for large group listening of 60 or more people, and if one tried to put all these features together separately, it would cost at least twice as much and not be designed for rugged use.   We have long considered manufacturing realities, and it would not be possible to manufacture a complex product outside of Asia, bearing in mind cost considerations.    As part of the Internet’s growth, people across the globe are sharing their knowledge and creating content from which we all can learn.  At Lifeline Energy, we believe that the Lifeplayer will expand access to that wealth of information for even the poorest among us. Using the Lifeplayer, even the extremely poor will be able to access information on everything from disease prevention, to financial literacy, to skills training, to microfinance, to math and science.  Farmers can access programming on improving crop yields, the safe use of pesticides and market prices. The list is endless and limited only by imaginations.  Having worked in the development arena on the ground for 12 years, one of the things I realise and appreciate is that there is not a one-size fits all model.  Given the scale and depth of poverty in Africa where I work, many approaches are needed.   I hope and trust that you understand more about the Lifeplayer now and if you would like to send me your email address, I would be more than happy to engage you further.   Kind regards   Kristine Pearson CEO Lifeline Energy

Submitted by Anonymous on
I am still not convinced by your arguments. Yes, I know the radios are given for free... You seem to believe passionately in the work you are doing, and I respect that. However, I do not think that your projects are doing any good for Africa. Your business model is very twisted, and I know you are not alone in this type of business. There are far too many businesses that profit from the poverty of Africa and that is why I despise your projects. This should stop. Your business model is as follow: you produce radios in Asia (at an undisclosed cost) and have them paid for by corporations or international organisations to be shipped to Africa. Other than being recipients of the radios, the poor Africans have no role in this entreprise. In fact what am I saying, the poor Africans are the foundation of your business but in a very twisted way. If they didn't exist you would not have material to persuade people that feel guilty about their wealth to pour money in your business or have image-conscious people use your business as a means of self-promotion. I am aware of the tremendous challenges that Africa has to overcome. This continent is going nowhere at the moment and you could argue that your endevours are part of a solution for Africa. But, I seriously doubt that is the case.

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Submitted by Ben Ntara on
This is addressed to the person calls himself Anonymous who will not reveal who they are, and so I am unable to address him directly. Where I come from this would be considered impolite to be critical, or even to state an opinion and to hide behind words without revealing your family name. Why I must ask will you not do so? As a Tanzanian I am fortunate to be studying in America for my masters degree. I find many Americans to be quite uninformed or patronising about Africa and my own country, but many do want to help us and we need help of all kinds to move us from poverty. I would say that this writer could be placed in the very much uninformed category or in KiSwahili kukosa elimu. With all due respect, who are you to call this business model twisted – how would you know? What credentials do you have? Millions on my continent are better for Kristine Pearson and her very important devices. It is easy to see from your writing that you are not African and you do not know Africa. My small village, to this day does not have electricity, we would have traded our goat to have a device like this. Radio is the only way to reach rural people who will remain ignorant without information and knowledge. We need radio, internet and other technologies like the Mp3 to help us learn and improve. Very few poor people have enough money to buy dry cell batteries with all the other things they need to buy, just to survive. Some people have mobile phones but cannot always find the means to charge them. And how can you use an internet if you cannot read?Africa has many failed computer projects, but radio learning is different. This discussion intrigued me to investigate more about Lifeline Energy. I was so happy to see what these people are doing and how many Africans, especially our children who are suffering from the ravages of poverty, can now be enriched with educational programming, dramas, and current events. I see that these radios have helped our children in Tanzania and we count our blessings to have them for our schools. If my village had had one of these Lifeplayers, many through knowledge would have been able to escape from the poverty and ill health that beats people down. To Kristine Pearson, the mother of this invention, I say thank you. Why don’t you visit my country, ask to see some of these devices working in our schools where children are so poor they feel shame because they do not have uniforms and walk with the bare feet many kilometres to a rundown school with no books or supplies to be taught by a teacher with a poor education himself. I know because this describes me and school. I was lucky to get a good education and further my studies because I was sponsored by someone in England. Lifeline Energy please do even more and with this new Lifeplayer because with the knowledge it carries, will help educate my country. And Mr. Anonymous, it is you who should stop it! This is my first time to respond to a blog, but I had to speak out this one time. Ben Ntara

Submitted by Kristine Pearson on
Dear Mr Ntara Let me thank you for your supportive blogpost. Being an African with first-hand knowledge and understanding of the circumstances and challenges under which many have to learn is a valuable endorsement of our efforts. Lifeline Energy has been working in Tanzania since 1999 and in 2003 we launched our first Lifeline radios in the Burundian refugee camps in the far west. I have had the pleasure of travelling to your country many times. There are more than 20,000 of these radios in your country reaching hundreds of thousands, if not millions of rural Tanzanians who would otherwise not have listening access. Tanzania will also receive some of the first Lifeplayers in an educational initiative. I wish you the best of luck with your studies in America. Kind regards Kristine Pearson

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