I have been working for the past 8 years trying to figure out how best to use individual donor funds to provide off-grid solar electricity access to low-income households in rural Malawi, Africa. What we have done is develop a very cost-efficient, small-scale assembly and distribution enterprise for getting solar equipment to thousands of households per year in low-income rural Malawi. Low-income rural Malawians cannot afford to pay the full price of a good, high-benefit solar system, so we optimally combine philanthropic subsidies with customer payments (of a discounted purchase price) to produce the maximum benefit per dollar of donated funds. Generally, per donated dollar, the solar systems are expected to produce between $10 and $100 of net benefit to the beneficiary households over the lifetime of the product.
On July 24, Sam Altman’s Worldcoin project launched. Worldcoin is a project that plans to entitle all of humanity access to a digital wallet that can buy and sell the Worldcoin token. The owner of the wallet is verified through an iris scan which creates a unique verifiable identity for each human user. The identity and wallet are managed through a smart-phone app called World App operated by an organization called Tools for Humanity. To incentivize people to download, sign in to the World App and have their identity verified through an iris scan, the Worldcoin project is giving a “genesis grant” of 25 WLD tokens for users that sign-up. The price of the WLD token on Binance.com is approximately $2.3 as of July 31, 2023. This amounts to a genesis grant value of approximately $57/person. In rural Malawi, Africa this is equivalent to about one month’s cash income for a rural laborer.
NGOs or enterprises like what me and my colleagues have created could conceivably sell discounted solar systems and smart phones to people who sign-up to the Worldcoin project in exchange for some of their WLD genesis grant tokens, making such products affordable to all Malawians when previously they have been unaffordable to the vast majority of people in rural areas.
In Malawi, there are approximately 11 million adults, theoretically eligible for a total of more than $600M of Worldcoin genesis grant value. This is enough resources to solar electrify all of rural Malawi (currently more than 90% of rural Malawians do not have electricity access), and/or provide all rural Malawian adults with low-end smart phones.
If we can get about 15% of the total potential, or $100M worth of Worldcoin genesis grants invested in subsidies of solar systems that produce $10 to $100 of benefit for every subsidy dollar, then this could produce $1B to $10B in benefits to rural Malawians. This seems like a pretty big deal.
Of course there is a tremendous amount of detail and complications with implementing a scheme like this. But I have been working on solar distribution in rural Malawi for 8 years, and can see ways to create multiple paths forward for such a scheme.
But I see three obvious questions that arise from these recent developments and this new opportunity:
(1) Couldn’t schemes like this be a HUGE opportunity for all of rural Africa? So shouldn't someone with much more power and resources than me be interested in this development potential?
(2) Should the EA global health and development community be jumping at this multi-billion-dollar development opportunity and figuring out how to get the genesis grant funds spent with maximum beneficial impact in dozens of low-income countries? &
(3) Does anyone want to help me figure out how to get a scheme like this implemented to maximize the benefit to rural Malawians??? (i.e. the country in which I know how to organize things).
I would love to hear the EA community’s comments and reactions to these questions. They will help me in two ways: #1 It will help me decide whether I want to take this on as one of my volunteer organizing efforts, and #2 The feedback will help me decide how to better organize such a project if I do decide to take it on.
Thanks a million for your constructive comments, reactions and help.