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American Brothers Make a Difference in Ghana

He’s the former CEO of the multi-million dollar game company Cranium. In 2007, he sold it and moved to Ghana to start a company that leases rechargeable batteries to people who live off the electrical grid. Whit Alexander and his brother Max who decided to make the trip as well.

A street vendor in Ghana lights a kerosene lamp in order to stay open a few more hours. A child in rural Kenya studies by a kerosene lamp at home.

In Africa, 600 million people live without electricity. Some say it doesn’t have to be this way.

Whit Alexander and his brother Max moved to Ghana four years ago and opened a business called Burro.

“It’s a rechargeable battery service," said Whit. "You pay a small deposit for every battery you take and then every time your battery falls [dies] you just bring it to your reseller and pay a small fee.”

His batteries charge just about anything, including lamps.

“This takes three of the Burro battery and has four different brightnesses," said White. "You can get 200 hours on the super saver mode we call it. And this we call bright with 20 hours, you might want to close your eyes. And super bright. This lights up a room, gives you 5 or 6 hours.”

But charged cell phones are crucial, he says.

“If you are in a cocoa farm in Sekenya [eastern Ghana], 80 percent of Ghanaians own a cell phone but only 50 percent live on the electric grid. Keeping that phone charged is a major issue," he said.

For Whit’s brother, Max, chronicling their journey on what he calls "bad roads, with a weird business plan" was inspiring.

“Ghana is near the equator. It gets dark very quickly after six o’clock every day," said Max. "That's when the flashlights come out. Americans might equate it to a camping trip but it’s every day of your life.”

He says he’s learned that the challenges his brother faced are common and require patience, flexibility, and skill in training employees to do a good job. He hopes his book inspires people who want to help.

“A lot of Americans feel like they want to make a difference in the world and maybe have a feeling that just going to a 'Save Africa' concert is not really doing all that much. I think the inspiration is that my brother just went over and did it," he said.

Whit says the people he works with every day inspire him.

“These guys in the face of adversity, when things go wrong and me this crazy American executive going oh my God, the vehicle broke down, we're gonna be late for the village meeting, what are we going to do? Neal will say “Whit calm down. We’ll get out. We’ll call ahead, we’ll get a taxi," he said.

He says his business hasn't made a profit yet but he believes he's on the right track.
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    Mariama Diallo

    Mariama Diallo is a senior reporter covering national and world affairs for Voice of America in multiple languages. She was recently the VOA acting bureau chief for the agency's West Africa office.