On Thursday, April 30th, MIIS and CSIL welcomed Mike Lin, founder of Fenix International to speak as part of the 2015 speaker series on Commercializing Impact Investment. Mike was invited to MIIS to give the social entrepreneur’s perspective on the social enterprise and impact investment sector. Mike started off his presentation giving us some background history on the evolution of his solar energy company, Fenix International. Fenix International started with a unique partnership between nonprofit and private entities with cell phone companies and Fenix International both working together to solve a major problem: How can we provide access to electricity to the millions of people living in rural areas?
Mike and his dedicated team at Fenix International have been working through multiple iterations to develop the best possible model to provide access not only to light but also to energy itself by designing a portable, solar battery charger which is multi-purpose and comes with many different attachments so that people are able to plug in multiple devices to power and charge them. Fenix International operates off of a “pay-as-you-go” model where their product is linked to a mobile device payment system so that people don’t have to pay for the device outright and can pay for the wattage that they use on a day to day or month to month basis. Mike also talked about how his product is helping to change gender dynamics in the household with Fenix seeing “women as the purveyors of power.” With Fenix’s impact data, they are able to track who is purchasing as well as who is using their product. While men are the primary buyers of the product, women have been seen as the primary users within the household, using the battery and solar panels to charge and power lights, cell phones, computers, and much more. But, Mike argues, there is much more work to be done not only in the development of the energy sector for the BOP populations but also in social enterprise and impact investment in general: “these problems aren’t easy to solve…if they were, someone would have solved them already.” What is really needed to solve these problems as well as to launch a social enterprise of one’s own, Mike argues, is a team where everyone can work together, has complimentary skill sets, as well as passion for what you are doing on a daily basis.