Aisa Mijeno, a Filipina academic and engineer created waves in the current APEC Summit 2015. Mijeno cofounded the startup that developed and created the Sustainable Alternative Lighting (SALt), a lamp powered by saltwater.
At the start of the APEC CEO Summit wherein U.S. President Barack Obama advocated for global action on climate change introduced Mijeno and Alibaba founder Jack Ma. Alibaba is China’s biggest e-commerce platform that equals the sales of U.S. retail giant Walmart.
U.S.President Obama then hosted and moderated the panel discussion wherein he called SALt as “brilliant” and representative of the new breed of innovators and entrepreneurs that creates solutions for everyday problems.
Jack Ma, is a leading proponent of private investor initiatives for climate change technology and solutions.
“Innovators are coming up with new ideas every single day which brings me to my two partners here,” Obama said, who later engaged both in the panel discussions for about 25 minutes.
President Obama congratulated Mijeno for being supportive of indigenous people and those in island communities without access to infrastructure such as electricity.
President Obama said he had brought one “young new entrepreneur” (Mijeno) and another “young at heart, but not-as-young large entrepreneur” (Ma) to compare notes on “why they see this as an opportunity and why they think it makes good business as well as good environmental sense, and how we collectively could be more supportive and encouraging of the kind of innovation that they represent.”
Mijeno, an academic, an engineer and a Greenpeace campaigner, developed the saltwater-powered lamp upon experiencing an “immersion” with members of the Butbut tribe in Kalinga province who relied on kerosene lamps and moonlight for lighting to do their evening chores.
Mijeno told of the travails of the tribe who had to walk for six hours every other day just to buy kerosene for their lamps since there is a dearth of transportation facilities in the area.
This served as the inspiration of the development of the salt water powered lamp. Citing the available resources in said communities which were salt, water and rice. This led to the development of SALt.
To Mijeno, Obama said: “you have an idea that could both do well and do good.”
Mijeno cofounded SALT with her brother Raphael. She is now the CEO while the latter is the chief finance officer.
Mijeno disclosed that there is a “light inequality gap” since 15 – 20 percent of the population have no access to something as simple as safe and affordable lighting. It is either they rely on kerosene lamps and moonlight.
“Most of these families live on island-communities and they are not connected to power grids. They mainly use kerosene and fuel-based lamps as the main source of lighting and we know the danger that kerosene poses,” she said.
Selling for $20 apiece, SALT’s lamps are envisioned to provide the marginalized with cost-effective and environment-friendly lighting.
SALt is their contribution to efforts in curbing climate change and by mass production, the impact would be increased.
“Imagine powering up a whole island using ocean water. Our planet is composed of 70-percent saltwater. So that’s what we’re trying to aim for,” she said.
The SALt lamp needs only one glass of water and two tablespoons of salt to run the lamp for eight hours. This is due to a chemical reaction that is transformed into energy.
The SALt lamp has a consumable component that must be changed every six months at a cost of $3, which suggests that it will cost $6 annually to maintain the lamp.
Jack Ma told how both government and large companies could help start-up businesses like Mijeno’s. “Government is simple, reduce tax or no tax for these guys,”
Mijeno cited the need for a support system from both government and private sector for funding and mentorship on running an enterprise and in behalf of SALt, the means to mass-production.
“That’s our main challenge right now. We’re in a critical phase. We’re trying to mass-produce the lamp so we’re just looking for someone to fund us,” Mijeno said which drew both applause and laughter from the audience.