Killing many birds with one… cow

Solar Cow Project powers electricity and education and fights child labor in rural Kenya

Solar Cow Project

Photo courtesy of Yolk
Children and parents in Pokot, Kenya watch a demonstration of how the solar cow works. Yolk Electronic Nutrients provides solar power packs, Power Milk, to children, who attach them to the udders of the cow to charge them. The cow is located on a school’s campus, so while the packs charge, the children can attend school.

Michael Kleiner
The Norwegian American

How do you solve the problems of poverty, child labor, the cost of electricity, and lack of educational opportunities?

Yolk Electronics Nutrient, a South Korean-based company whose goal is to “bring solar energy into everyone’s daily life,” and co-founder Sungun Chang, have managed to connect the dots with a neat effort piloted over a year ago in Pokot, Kenya, The Solar Cow Project. You might call it Bring the Charger to School Daily. Poverty often pushes parents to send children to work and away from school. One of the high costs in Africa is electricity. To provide incentive to parents to instead send their children to school, Yolk sets up a steel cow on the school campus. Solar panels are on top of the cow. The children are given solar power packs in the shape of a milk bottle, Power Milk, which attach to the udders of the cow. What to do while the Power Milks charge? Power up the children’s education by having them attend school. At the end of the school day, they retrieve the Power Milk packs and return home with the free electricity, able to power cell phones, flashlights, radios, and other items.

Solar Cow Project

Photo courtesy of Yolk
A child in rural Pokot, Kenya, attaches Power Milk solar power pack that is in the shape of a milk bottle, to the udders of the solar cow, located on a school’s campus.

Solar Cow won the Social Impact 2018 Award, AidEx Innovation Award 2018, and CES Innovation Award 2019. Among the partners of the AidEx Award is World NGO Day, in which Norway is a participant. AidEx is the leading platform for professionals in humanitarian aid and international development.

“I am very excited to participate in Aid­Ex and win the competition,” said Chang at the presentation in Brussels on Nov. 14. “This event is a great platform to promote our product to the entire aid and development community, which can improve the livelihoods of families in developing countries.

“Child labor, education, and energy distribution are all very complex problems and are consequently addressed individually. With the Solar Cow, we can chip away at all these problems simultaneously. This is the power of the Solar Cow and Power Milk. It is a social engineering project that rewards parents with free access to electricity in exchange for sending their children to school.”

The Yolk website cites a 2008 study by the International Labor Organization finding poverty is the main cause of child labor, which 150 million children endure. “Therefore, its solution should target persuading parents by compensating with aid value that is at least equivalent to or larger than the economic costs of a child labor wage that discourage parents from sending children to school,” says the site.

Solar Cow Project

Photo courtesy of Yolk
Thanks to the solar energy from the solar cow at school, this student in Pokot, Kenya, can study at home with the solar-powered flashlight.

The pilot targeted schools in rural areas of Kenya, where there is limited access to electricity, often a four- to six-hour walk to a charging station. This involves a high cost, and the electricity can’t power multiple devices. On average, 20 percent of monthly income is spent on electricity. With Solar Cow, parents save money and time, other electronic devices can use the solar power, and their children are gaining an education.

Conditional Cash Transfer is a system that provides cash to parents to send their children to schools. This cost increases with time. Sponsoring one child costs $1,080 ($15 per month for six years). Solar Cow requires only $30.

“CCT has shown to be one of the most effective solutions in treating social issues especially caused by poverty such as child labor,” said B.K. Lee, designer and planner at YOLK, in an email. “However, its huge and consistent financial cost significantly limit the numbers of students it can sponsor. Traditional CCT programs also require extra budget for the monitoring program to keep track of students’ attendance. The Solar Cow Project minimizes its average cost to approximately 3 percent of running conventional CCT programs. This means we can provide aid for 30 times more students with the same budget, while achieving the same effect of running a CCT program. Such drastic reduction of the cost is due to the sustainable feature of solar energy. Solar Cow and Power Milk only needs initial manufacturing and set-up cost. The sun will rise every day and deliver the energy for free. With CCT programs, students’ families must wait more than a month to receive the aid because the aid will be given after the confirmation of students’ attendance rate for the month. A receiver in the Solar Cow Project meets the condition for aid (attending school) and receives the compensation (charging the Power Milk battery) simultaneously. The synchrony in meeting the criteria and receiving the benefits, as immediate positive feedback, substantially increases the success rate of bringing students back to school.”

As Douglas, a teacher at the Chemoril primary school, tells Chang in a video on the Yolk site, “Someone who has been educated, they will not only change their life, but even the life of the community.”

For more information, visit: yolkstation.com.

Michael Kleiner has more than three decades of experience as an award-winning journalist and public relations professional. He has operated his own PR and web design business in Philadelphia since 1999. Not of Norwegian descent, he lived in Norway for a year with his family at age 11 and has returned as an adult. He is the author of a memoir, Beyond the Cold: An American’s Warm Portrait of Norway, and a member of the Norwegian American Chamber of Commerce Philadelphia. Kleinerprweb.com; beyondthecold.com.

This article originally appeared in the February 8, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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