Mariana Gonzalez, co-founder and former Iluméxico Director of Institutional Development, has been selected as the Young Americas Business Trust’s entrepreneur of the month. Iluméxico is a social enterprise that promotes community development through access to energy with solar panel systems in rural communities in Mexico.
Besides winning the Eco-Challenge Award of TIC Americas 2014, Iluméxico has received over 10 recognitions including the Business Innovation Award in Mexico, the Global TIC in Taiwan, and the Stephan Smidheiny Prize. Meanwhile, Mariana has taken part in the Global Women's Mentoring Program of the U.S. Department of State, the Good Global Fund, and the Global Fellowship Program Laureate of YouthActionNet.
In 2009, eight Mexican engineers created Iluméxico to address the need for electrification of rural communities of Mexico with less than 100 inhabitants. Mariana explained to us how Iluméxico was able to tap its potential, taking into consideration that it is very expensive for the National Energy Secretariat (SNE) to electrify these isolated communities, especially since their population density is quite low. After completing her volunteer service in the state of Guerrero, Mariana realized there was a lack of energy and other basic services, which represents a major barrier for progress in rural populations of Mexico. In this social context, she visualized the potential for Iluméxico to work with these disenfranchised communities.
After acquiring seed capital, these eight engineers worked on the creation and production of a prototype for solar panels that were user-friendly and portable. The basic model contains a battery, two LED lights, an electric plug, a panel and a controller. This controller was registered as Iluméxico’s patent under the name "Prometeo". What makes Prometeo so innovative? Through a color system, people with no technical background are able to easily use Iluméxico’s solar panels to .
The most basic solar panel has a lifespan of 20 years and a battery life of 3-4 years at a cost of US$ 200 along with technical support. Additionally, Iluméxico offers membership and maintenance policies. Today, about 300 systems are produced monthly. In many communities they work with, many users already have panels that were provided by their governments so Iluméxico provides technical support to repair these panels that tend to be broken or damaged in order to avoid the initial cost of acquiring the Iluméxico technology.
Now, one can ask the question of how a household whose average monthly income is less than USD 300 is able to purchase this technology. By acknowledging this reality, Iluméxico established strategic partnerships with Kiva to provide microcredits to its clients and with Telecomm Telegraph to collect payments of such microcredits; and more recently with the government agency Prospera, Schneider Electrics and United Way. Thanks to these strategic partnerships, Iluméxico is able to provide users the option of paying through monthly installments of US$5-$8, which equals their spending in candles and liquid fuel. Also, Iluméxico seeks to create a sense of belonging in the communities by supplying electrification of schools to their best customers.
The most innovative element within Iluméxico’s model is the "ilucentro". “ilucentros” are based on the idea of working as a team with members of the community since ultimately they know best which are the difficulties of their own communities and live there. An “ilucentro” consist of a small office of community members – previously trained by Iluméxico – serving as community engineers responsible for monitoring, providing technical support, collecting payments and leading customer service in their communities.
In just five years, Iluméxico has proven to be a successful social model that complements the state's role in providing energy to 18,000 people living in rural communities of Mexico. Today, Iluméxico has 5 “ilucentros” where 25 engineers work in the states of Guerrero, Oaxaca, Veracruz and Campeche.
By participating in the Global TIC Taiwan last year with the support of YABT, Mariana told us that she realized that not only Latin America but also Asian countries suffer from the same energy shortages. When she met her new partner, Surya Karki, the idea of transporting the Iluméxico model soon turned into a real project. Today, Mariana is working on the Diyalo Foundation with the goal of providing education and energy in rural communities of Nepal. Mariana believes that energy has a direct impact on poverty, income, education, health, security, and gender equality.
The Diyalo Foundation is operating in many rural areas that were affected by the earthquakes that took place in Nepal on May 2015. Currently, Mariana and Diyalo Foundation are conducting a fundraising campaign with a goal of US$ 100,000 to support and provide assistance to affected communities in Nepal. Support them here!
From the Young Americas Business Trust, we are sure that we will soon hear about the new adventures undertaken by Mariana to export her solar energy model to Nepal.