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Laís Naoko Higashi: Lighting Up Brazil’s Vulnerable Communities

Laís Naoko Higashi: Lighting Up Brazil’s Vulnerable Communities

Hi everyone! I’m Spiffy, your favorite interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs making a difference on UN SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy. Today I’m going to learn how Laís Naoko Higashi, the president of Litro de Luz Brasil, is working to improve access to electricity in Brazil. Let’s see how she’s doing it!

Spiffy: Welcome, Laís, I’m excited to learn about how you are lighting up the world! Can you tell me specifically what challenges you’re addressing?

Laís: It’s a pleasure to be here, Spiffy. Did you know that one billion people live without electricity in the world, and in Brazil, there are two million people in this situation? Working in all five regions of the country, Litro de Luz Brasil brings solar lighting to communities that don’t have adequate access to energy. We provide solar street lights, solar hand lights, and solar internal lights, composed of simple materials such as plastic bottles and PVC pipes. We also provide solar panels, batteries, and LEDs and teach residents how to build and maintain the technology. Our mission is to improve people's quality of life through sustainable lighting solutions and empower transformation agents.

Spiffy: This sounds like an enormous task, Laís, what motivated you to take on energy access in Brazil? 

Laís: The global movement, Liter of Light, was born in the Philippines in 2011. It was inspired by a solution that was created in 2002 by the Brazilian mechanic Alfredo Moser. The “Moser Lamp” is a plastic bottle, placed on a roof and filled with water and bleach. The refraction provides an illumination equivalent to a 60-watt light bulb. Liter of Light spread to more than 15 countries, coming back to Brazil as an organization in 2014. I started the Litro de Luz chapter in São Paulo in 2014, because I believe in a world where people have access to basic needs—and light is one of them. Lighting enables families to work, study, play, walk, eat, and do all those simple daily things after the sun sets. Everyone should be able to do those things, Spiffy!

Spiffy: I couldn’t agree more, Laís! Can you tell me how you are working to create a more equitable world? 

Laís: Worldwide, more than one million people have already been impacted by Liter of Light. Liter of Light has been recognized with the UN's World Habitat Awards and the Zayed Energy Prize, which is considered the Nobel Prize for sustainable energy. Litro de Luz Brasil has already impacted more than 16,000 people directly with constant support from 200 volunteers in the most vulnerable parts of the country, including rural and urban areas, and indigenous, quilombolas, and riverside communities.

Celebrating the solar lighting installation at a riverine community in the Amazon rainforest. (Photo credit to Bruna Arcangelo)

Spiffy: Have you reached any milestones that you’re particularly proud about? What kind of impact do you anticipate these things will have?

Laís: Well, Spiffy, in 2018 we concluded our biggest solar lighting installation. It included building 620 solar hand lights in more than 52 riverine communities that lived without energy in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest. We spent two months organizing and training ambassadors (Litro de Luz local representatives), and two weeks traveling on the boat to teach every resident how to build and maintain the solar hand lights. One of the most common impacts mentioned by the residents is that now they can eat fish more safely because they are less fearful of choking and needing to take a boat for hours to the closest hospital.

Spiffy: Wow, that certainly sounds life-changing. Can you tell me about a time when you faced failure and didn't give up? What did you learn from failure? 

Laís: I believe failure is part of growth. Every time something goes wrong I think, "It's in the discomfort that we grow. I am learning!” For example, once we had difficulty in a low-income community implementing the solar installation in our usual way (with lots of volunteers and residents participating) because of the violence there. So we had to change our approach and innovate, teaching our ambassadors so that they could lead the implementation with residents, and it ended up working great!

Spiffy: Way to pivot, Laís! What is something unexpected you’ve learned from someone recently?

Laís: Once I asked a man in one of the riverine communities we were lighting up, very far from the city, if he would like to move to the city to have a better life. He answered, "Why would I? People make money to go to beautiful places and spend a wonderful time with their loved ones. Here, I live close to my family and friends, and live in paradise."

Spiffy: There you have it! Before we sign off, is there anything else you would love to tell our audience? 

Laís: We would love for them to check out our Lighting up the Amazon video!

Spiffy: Done! Thanks so much for taking the time to tell me about your incredible work, Laís, it’s been an honor!


Laís Naoko Higashi is the president of Litro de Luz Brasil and graduated with degrees in business from the University of São Paulo, Brazil and KEDGE Business School, France. Laís has experience with the Grameen Bank (Bangladesh), was an ambassador at the Brazil Conference at Harvard and MIT, and has been a Hansen Summer Institute Fellow and Yunus&Youth Fellow. In 2015, she founded the São Paulo team of Litro de Luz, becoming president of the organization in 2016. (Nominated by One Young World. First published on the Ladderworks website on August 3, 2021.)


© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s interviews of founders building a more equitable world here.