SSEF collaborates on solar lantern study

Third World Consumer Research Without the Travel

A unique way Boston’s SSEF supports an important endeavor

Leveraging the increasing amount of market opportunities the developing world has to offer, new study hopes to learn how this untapped consumer makes decisions, and in this case the South Sudanese consumer.

South Sudan, a country where less than 1% of the population has access to electricity, is a market much in need of light. It’s also a difficult region to access. With the help from members of South Sudanese Enrichment for Families (SSEF), MIT and TU Delft is able to conduct research without the initial burden of difficult travel into sometimes dangerous or not easily accessed regions.


Maarten Vrouenraets, a masters student at the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in The Netherlands, affiliated with the YES!Delft incubator lead the project in which South Sudanese residents of Boston volunteered to compare various solar lanterns, and to report their decision methods for the "purchase" of a particular one. While the business objective of this project leverages market opportunities in the developing world, the participants, born and raised in South Sudan, have more of a personal objective. They know all too well the importance of light in their home country so they jumped at the chance to support this project in hopes that one day solar lanterns would be available to loved ones back home.



"Light is so important in South Sudan," Says Moses Ajou, SSEF Assistant Director. "It means children studying and shops opening late into night, women easily taking care of their children's hygienic needs, people easily lighting there foot path thus avoiding being stung by scorpions, bitten by sakes, as well as simply stumping their toes."

Group at work


In the study participants were asked how they would go about making a purchase decision in real life and what decision method they preferred to base their decision upon within the study. There were three consecutive sessions which aided in monitoring consistency with which participants were able to express their preferences. Participants were asked to take home a solar lantern and use it, and judge it as if a resident in South Sudan. This allowed the gain of insight into the way user experience influences the preferences of a decision maker.


Vrouenraets recounts, "Many participants showed non-compensatory behavior in their reasoning like 'Having a water resistant solar lantern will always help me to have power and anything else shall come after.' It seemed participants selected a solar lantern based on their absolute preferences for a limited amount of product attributes."

"Two of the key features of the solar lanterns that I thought were crucial for rural areas of South Sudan were the use and the maintenance." says Mangok Bol, SSEF Board Chairman. "The source of energy for the lanterns comes from the sun which is in abundance in that part of the world. Also, the lanterns are designed in a way that make it much easier for the village users to operate them. In other words, they are less sophisticated to operate which makes them more user friendly to the villagers. But most importantly, they are affordable as they come in varieties. A range of $15-$40 cost of one lantern is affordable to a villager in South Sudan."




One participant asserted, "Solar lanterns are less costly compared to flashlights and kerosene lamps in terms of money and environmental impact."

This study is provisional and requires further validation. The results were acquired by use of a small dataset of only 27 SSEF members and a single product set of 11 solar lanterns. Further analysis of the results and follow-up research will determine the way in which the research insights can best contribute to the further development of CITE's methodology.