Let there be light

Reaz Ahmad
Thursday, April 12th, 2018

Sajid Iqbal recieving Queen’s Young Leaders Award from the Queen Elizabeth in June 2017.


Social entrepreneur Sajid Iqbal’s mission to conserve energy


Sajid Iqbal, a young social entrepreneur, is one of the two Bangladeshis who have been put on the 2018 version of Forbes Magazine’s 30 Under 30 Asia list for their contributions towards solving problems through their business initiatives. The annual list by Forbes features 30 youngsters from Asia who are leveraging business tools to solve the world’s problems. Sajid Iqbal is the founder of CHANGE, a youth-led development agency working in the field of green innovations, research on renewable energy, water security and sustainable business development.


Sajid completed his BSc and MSc in Environmental Science and Management from North South University (NSU). In 2017, he received the Queen’s Young Leaders award.


Through CHANGE, Sajid has introduced the idea of using low-cost natural lighting in slums and factories. In disadvantaged communities, he has introduced solar bottle light (Botol Bati) to 4,000 residents ensuring natural lighting and reduced dependency on electric bulbs. He has also developed solar pipe light (Surjo Bati), which allow factories to use natural light from outside, rather than electrical bulbs. Sajid Iqbal has also worked with organizations to develop solar lanterns, street lights and micro irrigation pumps. CHANGE is a global partner of Liter of Light which is working in more than 37 countries promoting low cost affordable lighting solutions.


In a recent exclusive interview with the United News of Bangladesh (UNB), Sajid Iqbal shared some of his thoughts and current works. He made a fervent call to today’s youth not to look for jobs rather, employ respective innovative ideas to do some good for the society and at the same time generate jobs for others and contribute to national economy.


Sajid recalled when he was a university undergrad student studying on environmental science and management at NSU back in 2012, he came across a YouTube video showing how a two-litre Coke plastic bottle filled with some water is being used in congested areas for giving lights during daytime. “It showed sunlight getting into rooms reflecting through roof-mounted water bottles and illuminating rooms of 400 to 500-sq feet areas. I was wondering why such lights are needed during day time.”


Then Sajid visited some Dhaka slums to find out that many of those shanties are very congested having no windows whatsoever. “Sunlight can’t get through those shanties, in the school rooms within slum compounds. I saw that people are using 70 to 100-watt bulbs with power drawn through illegal electric connections.” Convinced by then, Sajid decided to install ‘Botol Bati’ (solar bottle light) in Bangladesh. He began a pilot project on ‘Botol Bati’ and his CHANGE’s voyage started along with that pilot.


Back in 2002 Brazilian mechanic Alfredo Moser had a light-bulb moment and came up with a way of illuminating his house during the day without electricity – using nothing more than plastic bottles filled with water and a tiny bit of bleach. Over the past several years Moser’s light has spread throughout the world including Bangladesh. In a media interview Moser had explained how his innovation worked. Plastic bottle filled with certain volume of water and bleach is fitted with roof by cutting little hole letting sunlight to refract.


Sajid told UNB that from Brazil the innovation spread to the Philippines by an organization called  – Liter of Lights, which eventually made video on the technology and helped spread it worldwide. “It’s an open-source idea – anyone is welcome to implement it wherever that suits. Even before I started working on it, one or two other people tried it out in Bangladesh.”


Sajid went on, “We did an in-depth study for two years, installed the Botol Bati in 300 households. We studied its positive and negative aspects, social acceptance taking assistance from GIZ. Then some industries wanted us to install Botol Bati at their facilities but we found out that height of the ceilings in industrial units would not permit Botol Bati work properly and provide the light. Then we developed Surja Bati – a bigger and improvised version of Botol Bati that is suitable for daytime industrial use.” What it requires are a kind of polycarbonate crystal clear dome and refractive pipe, he added.


CHANGE piloted Surja Bati at an ice-cream factory at Savar and that worked well. Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) also recognized that it could go on scale, said Sajid Iqbal adding that “If we only cover one percent of medium and large factories …some 200 targeted in 2 years, 16 GHz of power equivalent to 2.1 million USD can be conserved. Besides, this’ll reduce carbon emission too.”


At research phase CHANGE got supports from development agencies but now that “we’re trying to expand it, we have to open up a Surja Bati production factory,” said Sajid. Financing now appears to be main challenge before Sajid in taking Surjo Bati to scale. “We’re now in the process of engaging with investors, and also with the government. If we get the assistance we’ll be able to develop this as a sustainable model.”


He informed that CHANGE is also working on developing some local and affordable solar water irrigation pumps for the general farmers and tribal communities. For a primary prototype, CHANGE used a 1 HP DC rickshaw motor, local parts to make the voltage controller and locally made centrifugal pump which requires around 1,500 watts of solar panel to pump up 15 to 20 thousand liters of ground water daily. This pump could also be used to pump surface water from rivers or ponds to the agricultural land.


“Micro solar irrigation pump we’re developing, piloting but as you understand innovation takes time,” pointed out Sajid, now aged 27. He is a strong believer of youth power. He considers, youth in Bangladesh are today very passionate and trying hard from their respective areas of expertise, skills and knowledge to do something positive. He said CHANGE has got different youth engagement projects and it works with the active participation of the youth. At CHANGE, Sajid and his team strongly believe simplicity can be the best solution to meet any mega crisis.

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