We Care Solar
One-line solution summary:
We Care Solar save lives in childbirth with efficient Solar Suitcases designed for last-mile health facilities.
Pitch your solution.
Annually, 300,000 women and 1 million newborns die from complications of childbirth; 99% of these deaths occur in Africa and Asia. Non-existent or sporadic electricity impacts maternity wards, delivery rooms, operating theaters, and hospital communications, impairing the ability of health workers to provide safe, appropriate and timely medical care.
The We Care Solar Suitcase provides reliable, clean, renewable energy for last mile health clinics. The durable, easy-to-use Solar Suitcase is the only system designed specifically for obstetric care in rural areas and includes medical quality lighting, fetal monitors, LED headlamps, and power for charging cell phones and small devices.
The Solar Suitcase is a game changer, allowing health workers to provide around-the-clock life-saving care. We Care Solar's Light Every Birth campaign is proving that it is feasible and possible to provide safe, renewable power to every public health facility throughout an entire country so that no woman dies giving life.
Film your elevator pitch.
What specific problem are you solving?
Even before COVID-19, pregnancy complications claimed the lives of more than 300,000 women and over a million newborns each year, primarily in Africa and Asia. The majority of maternal deaths are due to hemorrhage, infection, eclampsia, obstructed labor, or unsafe abortion. Most of these deaths could be prevented if expectant mothers could access timely emergency obstetric care.
An often-overlooked aspect of maternal and newborn care is the need for electricity. Hundreds of thousands of health centers in the developing world lack electricity or have sporadic power. Without reliable power, midwives struggle by candlelight or kerosene lanterns, doctors postpone or cancel caesarean sections and other emergency surgeries, patients are turned away from darkened health centers, and lives are needlessly lost.
As COVID-19 spreads across the globe and public health departments shift limited resources towards the pandemic, there is a growing concern that recent gains in maternal-newborn care will be dismantled, resulting in increases in maternal and infant morbidity and mortality. Without modern electricity, health workers cannot safely provide essential services or maintain infection control, further weakening health systems and reducing health workers confidence and capacity. The pandemic has heightened the need for light and power, for both COVID-19 and MCH services.
What is your solution?
In response to the critical need for light and power in last mile health facilities, We Care Solar designed a compact 12VDC institutional-grade solar electric system. The Solar Suitcase is a complete, rugged, easy to install and maintain solar electric system includes power generation, medical appliances, and installation hardware. This prewired device has been tested and proven in thousands of health centers. It is the only renewable power source designed specifically to provide the first 100 watts of electricity to last mile maternal health centers.
The newest version of the award-winning Solar Suitcase incorporates years of human-centered design field research and features improved functionality, durability and ease of use. It is equipped with customized 70,000-hour medical lights, rechargeable headlamps, phone chargers, a fetal heart-rate monitor, and an infra-red thermometer. It is durable and easy to install, operate, and maintain. 100-watt solar panels recharge the system fully each day, ensuring light throughout the night. The lithium ferrous phosphate battery is maintenance-free and lasts for five years before needing a simple replacement. It is equipped with the capacity for remote monitoring. The printed circuit board is designed for manufacturability.
Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?
Our target population is impoverished rural communities in Africa and Southeast Asia. Primary beneficiaries include (1) expectant mothers and their newborns, (2) rural healthcare workers, (3) families in need of frontline health services, and (4) government ministries striving to improve obstetric care.
The Solar Suitcase was originally designed based on fieldwork in Nigeria. It went through an iterative design process, incorporating fieldwork with dozens of healthcare workers. This informed the choice of high-quality electrical components, simplified re-design of the user-interface, and improved clarity of training manuals and videos.
Medical care significantly improves with Solar Suitcase. Health workers can assess patients, promptly conduct routine and emergency procedures, maintain good hygiene, institute infection control protocols, and monitor patients throughout the night. The fetal Doppler allows health workers to assess fetal well-being during labor and detect distress. Improved phone charging ensures that emergency referrals happen when needed. The no-touch thermometer aids COVID-19 assessments.
Amref Health Africa conducted a 3-year, multi-intervention Solar Suitcase trial in 100 Ugandan health facilities, resulting in an 80% increase in night-time deliveries, a 50% decrease in maternal mortality and a 63% decrease in perinatal deaths. MCH program evaluations by Pathfinder in Nigeria and Tanzania demonstrated similar findings.
Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?Expand access to high-quality, affordable care for women, new mothers, and newborns
Explain how the problem, your solution, and your solution’s target population relate to the Challenge and your selected dimension.
Light and power are essential enabling factors for safe, appropriate, high-quality obstetric care. Without light, health workers are fearful and cannot provide timely life-saving services. Impoverished mothers often deliver at home rather than pay for candles, kerosene, or batteries. Solar Suitcases enable health workers to provide timely, high-quality care in a well-lit health centers. Multiple program evaluations documented increases in facility-based deliveries. A soon-to-be-published RCT showed significant improvements in the quality of care and infection control with Solar Suitcases. Our national initiatives are equipping thousands of public health facilities with Solar Suitcases, ensuring health workers the power to save lives.
In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?Berkeley, CA, USA
What is your solution’s stage of development?Scale: A sustainable enterprise working in several communities or countries that is looking to scale significantly, focusing on increased efficiency
Who is the primary delegate for your solution?
Laura Stachel, MD, MPH
If you have additional video content that explains your solution, provide a YouTube or Vimeo link here:
Which of the following categories best describes your solution?A new application of an existing technology
Describe what makes your solution innovative.
The Solar Suitcase is the ONLY complete, all-in-one, prewired institutional-grade solar electric system designed by health providers and engineers for health facilities in harsh environments. The patented solar controller was designed to maximize harvest of the solar power, optimize use of lithium-ferrous-phosphate battery, and work with a range of solar panels. The customized 70,000-hour LED lights provide appropriate illumination for medical and surgical procedures (the color rendition index enables surgeons to visualize arteries and veins). These water and break-resistant medical lights can be washed, re-positioned, and even dropped without damage. The cables and connectors can withstand thousands of connections. The power switch is a circuit breaker that provides over-current protection. The technology is safe, durable, and effective, designed to work day after day without failure.
The system went through years of user-centered design testing with African health workers.The interface is designed to be user-friendly and easily understood. The cable lengths for the lights and solar panels can accommodate a range of health facilities in multiple countries. Common prewired solar homes systems cannot compare in terms of light quality, durability, and medical facility customization.
Our work extends to social innovation. We are addressing energy poverty at the systems level, working with governments and NGO's to create an ecosystem of support. We provide technical trainings build local capacity, support livelihoods, and strengthen supply chains. We created a Women's Solar Ambassador program to promote women's leadership. Finally, we engage policy makers and key stakeholders to strengthen the nexus of energy and healthcare.
Describe the core technology that powers your solution.
The Solar Suitcase offers distributed renewable energy to remote communities in need. Grid power extension is slow, expensive, and often fails to reach clinics in harsh geographies. Health facilities with grid connection are subject to daily load-shedding, plunging many centers into darkness. We Care Solar bypasses the daunting complexities of infrastructure build-out in Africa. Our portable, immediately-operational, reliable, stand-alone units match power generation and loads. They are not prone to siphoning, wire theft, or battery damage caused by overuse.
Environmentally-friendly Solar Suitcases replace polluting and dangerous sources of light and energy such as candles, oil lamps, kerosene lanterns, and diesel-fueled generators. They use the highest quality solar panels and components. Our lighting was specifically designed for medical and surgical procedures in harsh environments. These lights enhance obstetric care, illuminate surgical procedures, and facilitate patient assessment; screening for medical conditions; administration of routine medical care; healthcare workers’ safety; and overall management of complications. They feature a customized heat-sink to maximize LED longevity. The 12VDC and 5VDC charging ports and AA/AAA battery charger eliminate travel to charge mobile phones and medical devices.
Version 3.0 of the Solar Suitcase, released in 2019, features dimmable LED lights, a simpler user interface, storage pockets, a longer-lasting battery, additional lights for additional treatment rooms, a trouble-shooting interface for technicians, and greater functionality. It is water-and-dust tight and enabled for remote monitoring. We customized our own charge controller to accommodate lithium battery technology. We also include all installation hardware and a range of educational videos and manuals.
Provide evidence that this technology works.
In the last decade, we have equipped more than 5,200 health centers with Solar Suitcases, trained 700 technicians to deploy our technology, educated 20,000 heath workers in the proper use of our equipment, and improved obstetric care for 5.6 million beneficiaries (2.8 million mothers and their
newborns). Using qualitative, quantitative and randomized control trial methodologies, we have documented improvements in maternal child healthcare in three areas: (1) Enhanced capacity of health workers to provide care (2) Improved quality of care, and (3) Reductions in maternal and newborn mortality.
Quantitative findings are available from three program evaluations.
Uganda: A three-year, AMREF-led Saving Lives at Birth Program (which also provided laptop computers, continuing education for midwives, and community empowerment), resulted in a 50% reduction of maternal mortality, 67% fewer perinatal deaths, and an 80% increase in nighttime deliveries at skilled health facilities.
Tanzania: Pathfinder included Solar Suitcases in its 2014 Mobilizing Maternal Health Project in two districts. In combination with a medical transport scheme, the Solar Suitcase program resulted in a 40% decrease in maternal mortality and a 43% decrease in neonatal mortality.
Nigeria: When Pathfinder Nigeria began working to improve MCH care in Cross River State in 2016, only 57% of 81 facilities had access to electricity. After providing SolarSuitcases, Pathfinder documented a 55% reduction of maternal mortality and 40% reduction of perinatal mortality.
Additionally, Harvard and IPA will soon publish an RCT of the Solar Suitcase intervention in Uganda showing improvements in the quality of care and infection control.
Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:
What is your theory of change?
When energy-poor health facilities receive clean solar electricity...they have better lighting for extended hours of operation and power for medical device. This leads to improvements in the quality of emergency obstetric care in front line services, improved air quality from the displacement of fossil fuels and more timely services. As a result, there is reduction of preventable maternal deaths, improvements in newborn survival and ultimately stronger families and communities.Here is an Outline of our Logic Model:
Using the following Inputs:
- Solar Equipment and Medical Appliances
- Rural Health Centers
- Partner agencies: Ministries of Health, UN Agencies, International NGOs, local NGOS
- Health Workers
- Expectant Mothers and their newborns
- Key Staff: Engineers, Program Managers,Trainers, Logisticians, Support Staff
- Design and Manufacture Solar Suitcases
- Transport Solar Suitcase to rural communities
- Cultivation of partnerships with governments, UN agencies and NGOs
- Training of local health technicians on how to install and maintain Solar Suitcases
- Training of health workers on how to optimally use the Solar Suitcase and its medical devices
- #Solar Suitcases produced
- #Health centers equipped
- # Partner agencies
- #Health Technicians Trained in Installation
- #Health workers (i.e. midwives) trained to use Solar Suitcase and its accessories
- #Expectant mothers utilizing health centers
- #Hours of medical light provided
- #Tons of CO2 averted by renewable energy
- Improved lighting at health facilities
- Increased utilization of health centers; i.e. more facility-based deliveries each month
- Health workers have more confidence and less fear of night duty
- Improved detection of fetal well-being or distress (Doppler)
- Improved ability to call for emergency help (charged cell phones)
- Greater safety during obstetric care and improved quality of care
- Cleaner air, less pollution
- Improved MCH care with reductions in maternal and newborn morbidity and mortality
- Better retention and morale of rural health workers
- Improvements in planetary health
Select the key characteristics of your target population.
Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?
In which countries do you currently operate?
In which countries will you be operating within the next year?
How many people does your solution currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?
To date we have installed Solar Suitcases in 5213 last mile health clinics and have served 5,989,248 mothers and newborns by supporting safer obstetric deliveries. We have trained 20,855 health workers on the use of the Solar Suitcase, the use of the fetal Doppler, and the infrared thermometer.
Each facility conducts approximately 200 deliveries per year. In one year, we anticipate our Solar Suitcases will support health workers conducting 1 million additional deliveries. This means 1 million mothers and 1 million newborns will be directly served by out programs in the next year. In the next five years, with our expanded program growth, we anticipate 16 million persons will be served.
What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?
In the next year, we will complete our Light Every Birth Solar Suitcase installation program in Uganda and Zimbabwe, continuing work with our ecosystem of partners to ensure all public facilities have access to light. In Sierra Leone, we will recruit, hire, and train additional local Solar Suitcase installers. We will establish our inventory warehouse in Sierra Leone. In Liberia, we will implement our Sustainability Plan and pilot our electronic data collection and online incident report tracker, and apply lessons learned from this program to our Sustainability Plans for Zimbabwe, Uganda and Sierra Leone. We will advance gender-equity and women’s leadership by recruiting African women for our Women’s Solar Ambassador Program. We will hire Technical and Logistical Support staff as funding permits and needs arise. We will implement electronic data capture in all countries.
Over the next five years, we will expand our coalition of certified solar partners and solar trainers, to build our technical support network. We will strengthen our supply chain and servicing network and add two more Light Every Birth countries. We will examine the potential of the Solar Suitcase to power additional energy-efficient medical devices. We will conduct a landscape analysis and needs assessment for the next phase of Light Every Birth and conduct a process analysis of our progress to date and associated impact in the field, refining and improving our best practices guidelines. We will share our findings and learnings externally, and continue to advocate for the need of light and electricity for healthcare.
What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year and in the next five years?
As COVID-19 continues to take hold in Africa, we may see pandemic related difficulties for our programs over the next year. Potential difficulties include lockdowns, infection spread, and air travel restrictions limiting Solar Suitcase deployment.
We navigate multiple ongoing challenges that will continue over the next five years as well. We work in developing nations that have inadequate infrastructure, cash economies, and insufficient budgets. We work in under-resourced government health facilities that often lack support systems. The fragmentation across government agencies adds to our challenge. We work in geographies where the terrain is difficult and inclement weather can make roads impassable: just reaching last-mile health centers can pose a challenge and maintaining technology in remote health centers is even more challenging. We also face challenges given our context-specific solution. Each country has its own set of unique circumstances to be assessed and addressed.
How do you plan to overcome these barriers?
(1) Lockdowns: We have confirmed in writing with national and local governments that installation of Solar Suitcases for health facilities is considered an essential activity even during lockdown, and has given permission to continue conducting Solar Suitcase installations.
(2) Infection Spread: We have developed a detailed set of COVID-19 guidelines to reduce the chance of becoming infected or spreading coronavirus between health facilities including frequent hand-washing, disinfection of equipment, social distancing, and use of masks and gloves when appropriate. We are adapting to public health guidelines as they evolve.
(3) Limited Air Travel: With the cancellation of airline flights due to COVID-19, the shipment of Solar Suitcases may take longer than before. We are in communication with humanitarian shipping agencies that can partner with us if commercial flights are lacking.
We address our other ongoing program implementation challenges by building local capacity and cultivating additional implementation partnerships. Both require considerable relationship-building, networking, oversight, training, and management. Partnerships with governments and NGOs are fundamental. We unite forces with health ministries, established local NGOs, and international partners to select clinics, train technicians, and deliver and maintain Solar Suitcases.
After working in more than 27 countries and equipping thousands of health facilities with Solar Suitcases, we have learned to apply various frameworks, tailored for different circumstances in each country. We are adaptable and flexible and maintain relationships with other social-change agents. We continually evaluate our programs and partnerships in order to define ongoing best- practices and models for excellence.
What type of organization is your solution team?Nonprofit
If you selected Other, please explain here.
How many people work on your solution team?
We Care Solar has twelve full-time staff members based in the United States and five full-time staff in Africa, including the Director of our African Regional Center in Uganda. The four additional full-time African staff include one member in Zimbabwe, one staff in Sierra Leone and two staff members in Uganda. The US staff are primarily based in Berkeley, California with the Chief Engineer based in Colorado near the Solar Suitcase manufacturer.
How many years have you worked on your solution?
We Care Solar is celebrating its 10 year anniversary
Why are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?
Our team has expertise in the areas of medicine, engineering, business, program management, logistics, public health programming, and research. In the U.S., our team will benefit from additional expertise in the realm of Fundraising/Advancement, Public Relations and Advocacy. As our programs grow, we will also need to build out our finance team.
Laura Stachel, CEO and Founder, is an Ob/Gyn with 12 years of international public health and development experience. She has expertise in renewable energy for health care and has spoken widely about this topic at more than 200 venues (e.g. WHO, United Nations, UN Foundation, the World Bank, COP23, COP24, COP25, Rio+20, IRENA.
Samantha Parsons, COO, has 17 years of international development experience. Past positions include VP of Business Development and Operations at iDE, General Manager for inPractice Africa, and director with Chemonics International.
Christina Briegleb, MPH, Senior Director of Global Programs has 12 years of experience developing and managing public health programs, conducting mixed methods research, and managing diverse teams. She has worked in Ghana, Kenya, Myanmar and Tanzania, including conducting research for Harvard University.
Amborse Katungi Muhwezi, MD MPH, Africa Program Director, has been a leader in international NGOs and public health offices to improve health care infrastructure. He was the district medical officer in several regions of Uganda.
Brent Moellenberg, Director of Engineering, worked at IBM as a mechanical engineer before joining We Care Solar 10 years ago. He has led our product design, manufacturing, and evaluation.
What organizations do you currently partner with, if any? How are you working with them?
We Care Solar works with local partner organizations to implement Solar Suitcase programs.We work together to come to agreement about the location and scope of the program. We Care Solar determines potential funding sources and works to secure funding, then develops a formal contract delineating roles and responsibilities. Programs include the following key activities, divided between We Care Solar and our partners:
1) Identify appropriate health facilities for electrification,
2) Engage national and district health departments in our programs,
3) Coordinate Solar Suitcase trainings and Installations,
4) Identify local technicians to participate in our Solar Suitcase trainings,
5) Distribute Solar Suitcases to remote health facilities,
6) Develop maintenance protocols in partnership with local health authorities,
7) Support our efforts to monitor and evaluate our programs
We are currently working with the following partners:
- Smart Energy, EnDev, AfriCare, UNFPA, UNICEF
- Ministry of Health and Social Welfare
- Save the Children
- Horizon Energy
- Ministry of Health and Sanitation
- Ministry of Energy
- All in Trade
- Brick by Brick
- Feni & Team
- Healthy Child Uganda
- Ministry of Health
- ZImEnergy Eco Foundation
- Engineering World
- Ministry of Health and Child Care
What is your business model?
We Care Solar has vertical integration of our value chain from product design to manufacturing to distribution to international logistics to distribution and installation, to after-sales service and finally, program evaluation. We have expertise in product design, engineering, public health, education, solar electricity, international development, and research. We outsource manufacturing to a contract manufacturer in Colorado and outsource shipping to a 3rd-party logistics firm.
Our key beneficiaries are health workers, expectant mothers, and newborn babies.
We bring value to our beneficiary population through our key activities of creating a compact, scalable solar-electric system for health facilities in underserved communities to enable health workers to have reliable lighting, and 12VDC electricity for charging phones and small medical devices and provide around-the-clock OB emergency care. We design educational programs to build local capacity. We stimulate systems change by advocating for energy access for health care.
Our key resources are solar technology, our staff of engineers, designers, program managers, fundraisers, researchers, and advocators.
Our key business partners are NGOs, Ministries of Health, and international agencies who provide access to health centers, linkages to district health organizations, and monitoring and evaluation capabilities. Individual funders and philanthropic organizations provide revenue streams to cover costs for Solar Suitcase hardware, product development, shipping/logistics, trainings, research/evaluation, marketing, and advocacy.
Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, or to other organizations?Organizations (B2B)
What is your path to financial sustainability?
With a focus on electrifying public health centers in low-resource communities, We Care Solar cannot rely on a functional market. Our beneficiaries (public health workers) are not the same as our consumers. We are addressing an unmet public need: energy access for public health institutions.
We Care Solar has cultivated a diverse funding stream to support health facility electrification in rural communities, including (1) philanthropic support from institutional funders, family foundations, individual donors, (2) awards, and (3) earned income from purchases by UN agencies and iNGOs. To date, we have raised more than $25 million, allowing us to develop new products, conduct field research, lead international trainings, and oversee Solar Suitcase programs.
Revenue growth has been the result of:
- Increasing recognition by governments in developing economies of the importance of the Solar Suitcase
- The United Nations’s endorsement of the Solar Suitcase for promotion of the Sustainable Development Goals
- Solar Suitcase purchases by various UN agencies
- Dedicated institutional funding for research, product development, and program scale-up
- Bilateral agencies seeking to expand our programs
- Individual donors cultivated through media campaigns, TED talks, and awards
Why are you applying to Solve?
We want to eradicate energy poverty in health centers by 2030. This will only be possible by building a coalition of like-minded problem solvers who can help us advance our mission. We want to create a coalition of innovative problem solvers who join our belief that (1) All women have the right to safe childbirth, (2) All health centers are entitled to electricity, and (3) Clean solar energy offers an immediate and sustainable solution to this global problem.
We are eager to work with MIT’s rich network of innovators, technical experts and funders to help us (1) Advance our technology, and (2) Accelerate our Light Every Birth initiative. We are eager to develop an array of energy-efficient medical devices. We know that the Solar Suitcase can be a power platform for a range of essential devices that can increase the effectiveness of health workers in remote regions. We hoping through MIT Solve to receive mentorship on our plan to collect and display remote monitoring data from all of our Solar Suitcases. We are eager to meet with others at MIT working in global health care to cultivate new implementing partnerships in new regions of Africa. And finally, we are hoping that additional media and conference exposure from Solve might help us expand our network to funders who wish to join us on our journey to "Light Every Birth."
In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?
Please explain in more detail here.
We are also interested in partnering with biomedical engineers who can develop an array of energy-efficient 12VDC medical devices that can be paired with the Solar Suitcase. These high efficiency devices will be effective in low-resource settings where solar power is the only electricity available. They will have additional applications in humanitarian settings in need of a portable power pack, and even in industrialized countries where compact, portable medical devices can have great utility. Specific devices include surgical cautery, suction, oxygen concentrators, and sterilization equipment.
We are seeking to expand our initiative and would like to partner with international and local healthcare NGOs working outside of our current target countries. We are seeking new funding partners, and media exposure to advance our advocacy efforts. We would like to scale our programs throughout Africa and Asia.
What organizations would you like to partner with, and how would you like to partner with them?
At MIT, we are interested in meeting with faculty/students at the MIT Design Lab. We would be interested in discussing our ideas for energy efficient medical devices and optimizing the Solar Suitcase for humanitarian settings (e.g. post disaster). Hundreds of our version 2.0 Solar Suitcases have been used in disasters (Philippines, Nepal, and Puerto Rico) and our newest version 3.0 has yet to be adapted for this application. For the development of energy-efficient medical devices, we would seek to meet with the instructors and students involved in the medical device design course. For developing partnerships, we would reach out to the MIT medical global health and humanities initiative, particularly those working in rural health care. We would like to work with the computer scientists on helping us develop a way to collect and display data that is provided by the Solar Suitcases in the field.