With her solar suitcase, she transforms health care

Laura Stachel is a co-founder of We Care Solar, which designs “solar suitcases” that power lighting and medical devices in areas without reliable electricity.

Women entrepreneurs like Stachel — who are changing lives and fostering economic growth — are taking center stage this week at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Hyderabad, India. Here’s how Stachel answers questions about her organization and the challenges she overcame:

How did you come up with your idea, and how did you turn it into a nonprofit organization?

After working as an obstetrician for years in private practice, I began studying public health. I went to observe care in a Nigerian hospital in 2008. I was shocked that the hospital had sporadic power and had no lights or power for 12 hours a day. My husband designed a solar electric system for the hospital and mortality rates decreased. Many clinics began asking for solar power, and we created a suitcase-sized solution that can be transported to any clinic in need of reliable electricity. We started as volunteers and eventually created a nonprofit business to allow our solar solution to scale.

Woman holding yellow suitcase in boat with other people standing nearby in shallow water (Courtesy of Laura Stachel)
(Courtesy photo)

Have you faced struggles as a female entrepreneur?

I don’t believe I have ever been held back because of being female. My challenges were more related to being inexperienced in business, including nonprofits. I was passionate about improving maternal health care … but I had no experience in manufacturing, supply chains, logistics, international programming and management. I needed to seek mentors who could provide support and create a team that could complement my skills in public health.

Woman opening yellow suitcase as man looks on (Courtesy of Laura Stachel)
Laura Stachel in Malawi with a solar suitcase (Courtesy photo)

What advice would you give to girls who dream of starting a business or nonprofit?

You don’t need to have all the answers at the start or come up with a master plan. You just need to find something that you can feel passionate about. If you can solve one tiny part of a problem, it will start you on a path and allow you to face new challenges you can solve.

What has been the most gratifying part of this work for you?

I have loved meeting health providers in diverse communities in the world, learning about their lives and finding ways to support the work they are doing. They tell me that their health centers are transformed when we provide solar lighting and power. There are hundreds of thousands of health facilities in need of reliable electricity, and I am grateful to be a part of a coalition that is working to address this global problem.

A longer version of this story from the U.S. Agency for International Development appeared on Medium.com in a series for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit.