Mansi Prakash was in high school when she founded her nonprofit, Brighter Today, which distributes eco-friendly CFL light bulbs to households in developing countries. Now a junior at New York University, Prakash has won Glamour Magazine’s Top 10 College Women prize, thanks to her efforts in cutting energy bills for poor families by 80 percent. We spoke with the overachieving economics major about her recent win and her plans for the future.
How did you come up with the idea for Brighter Today?
In 2010 I visited a small rural Indian town with my grandparents. I noticed that the families there, while they had incandescent bulbs, avoided using them due to high electricity costs. I was stunned that this issue had become such a severe roadblock to the villagers: It prevented students from studying and inhibited women working at home I decided to make a change that summer by implementing CFL bulbs in 12 households.
How did finance your project?
I carried out the project on a very small scale in 2010 with 10 families, and purchased and provided bulbs through my own pocket money. In 2014, Brighter Today was one of the winners of the Social Venture Challenge and named a Resolution Fellow at the Clinton Global Initiative University Conference. When we began our on the groundwork during the summer of 2014, we were lucky enough to partner with Philips Lighting – who has sponsored 100% of the CFL bulbs since then.
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How do you manage your project in India from New York?
We have an on-the-ground team of 14 people who facilitate the process of collecting and implementing CFL bulbs: this includes a project coordinator, village leaders as well as volunteers.
One of the major obstacles we encountered during the summer of 2014 was bringing light and creating the same benefit for those areas with no access to electricity. So, we have been working on an affordable innovation called Light for Life to bring free, clean, sustainable power to light up their homes for a lifetime. Light for Life is going to provide 24/7 lighting, as well as a station for recharging mobile phones just using daylight, a plastic bottle, bleach and water solution, solar panel and LED bulb. The device has been assembled with local materials readily available, and has been tested for nine months with encouraging results. It requires no maintenance, is easy to install and has zero running costs.
What are your hobbies, outside of saving the world?
Baking and photography.