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Entrepreneur Brings Solar-powered Flashlights to the Poor

About one third of the world's people spend nights in darkness, fearful of venturing out, unable to read, cook, sew or do anything else but sleep. But a business man in Houston, Texas named Mark Bent is on a mission to change that with flashlights that use the sun's energy to light up poor homes and villages at night.

To many Africans, Mark Bent is a hero. But he regards himself as someone who is fortunate to have the opportunity to help people by providing them with light.

"I am the most unlikely flashlight person you will have ever met," he said. "I really believe that God has led me to this point in my life."

Solar charged flashlight

Bent's innovation is a simple flashlight that can be recharged in sunlight and used for many hours at night for activities like reading.

"Most children in the developing world have to work," Bent says, "Just to stay alive so during the day they do not have time to read."

The idea for the solar flashlight came to Mark Bent when he was working as a U.S. diplomat in Africa in the 1990's. In 2006, he started Sun Night Solar in Houston and started providing simple flashlights to poor people in Africa.

Demand is growing in Africa

With feedback from users in poor villages, Bent has made improvements on the newer models, including an array of light emitting diodes that can light a four-by-four meter room.

Demonstrating "Watch what happens to the light in my hand. It covers the entire area of my hand," he says, "It is no longer a directed, narrow beam of light. It is a very wide beam of light."

Bent's effort has been supported by private corporations and foundations, but demand is growing for the lights among outdoor enthusiasts. He hopes to make this a profitable business once he speeds up production and distribution.

"I am just honored to be a part of it," he said. "It cracks me up that I am in charge of it. Just being part of it, I find, is a deep honor."

Bent says he finds it rewarding to provide light for those who need it.