Kristine Pearson

Lifeline Energy
Year founded: 
South Africa

Lifeline Energy provides technology solutions for off-grid learning

Focus: Education, Energy, Environment, Technology, Communications
Geographic Area of Impact: Sub-Saharan Africa
Model: Hybrid Non-Profit
Number of Direct Beneficiaries: 120,000 (2012)
Annual Budget: US$ 2.8 million (2013)
Percentage Earned Revenue: 80%
Recognition: Schwab Fellow of the World Economic Forum

Education is the cornerstone of a nation’s future, making access to education a basic human right. To achieve Millennium Development Goal 2 – Universal Primary Education - 1.8 million new teachers need to be trained by 2015 in sub-Saharan Africa. This will not happen. Sub-Saharan Africa has some of the lowest education indicators with 45 percent of the world’s out-of-school children coupled with high drop out rates, especially amongst girls. Vulnerable children, rural women, and refugees are the least likely to be literate, making gainful employment less likely and placing Internet access beyond reach. Technology solutions combined with access to renewable energy are needed to provide a platform for lifelong learning. This is Lifeline Energy’s mission.

Innovation and Activities
Across the developing world, radio remains the most important mass communication medium and transcends literacy, poverty and geography. Its power to educate and inform in everyday life and emergencies is just as important now as it was 50 years ago. The non-profit Lifeline Energy, in collaboration with its for-profit subsidiary, Lifeline Technologies, designs, manufactures and distributes solar and human powered media players and radios for group listening. Cellphones, the Internet and tablets have made significant inroads in Africa; however, they are mainly for individual use. Lifeline Energy, with its focus on products aimed at group listening, can accommodate 60 learners and thus quickly reach scale.

Since its inception, more than 540,000 power independent radios media players impacting more than 20 million lives have been distributed. Most are procured by institutional buyers forlarge learning projects, although individuals and family foundations have also contributed. Its groundbreaking Lifeplayer MP3 is the world’s first media player, 5-band radio and recorder for humanitarian use designed for distance education and stores up to 64GB of content. Using microSD cards content can be updated via smart phones or the Internet. It records live voice or radio broadcasts for listening later. On-board monitoring software enables data collection to determine how and when the device is being used. Tens of thousands of Lifeplayers are being integrated into teacher training, educational and agricultural initiatives mainly in sub-Saharan Africa. Hundreds of thousands will learn English from the Lifeplayer as a result of a partnership with the British Council.

The solar and wind-up Prime radio with a digital screen receives excellent AM/FM/SW frequencies and plays for many hours and its integrated LED light enables night time studying. The Prime and its predecessor, the Lifeline radio (which LE pioneered), provide ondemand information access to women’s listening groups, farmers and child-headed families. Lifeline Energy has secured the support of many leading institutions and individuals, including Academy Award-winning actor Tom Hanks, who serves as an ambassador and champion for the organization and renown hostage negotiator, author and humanitarian Terry Waite.

The Entrepreneur
Founding CEO Kristine Pearson understands that education access and addressing energy poverty are key levers for sustainable development, particularly for women and children. Pearson is American-born and after immigrating to South Africa in 1989, she built a successful consultancy specializing in the development of women in business, which led to an executive position at a South African banking group. Pearson serves on the Women’s Leadership Board of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and was honoured with the James C. Morgan Global Humanitarian Award in 2005. Time magazine named her a Hero of the Environment in 2007. Her Lifeline radio concept won the first Tech Museum Innovation Award in 2001.