Lifeline Energy

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Putting Self-Powered Lights and Radios in the Hand of Women, Children, and Refugees Worldwide



Headquarters London, UK
Established 1988
Impact Areas Kenya, Malawi, Madagascar, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Somaliland, South Sudan, Tanzania, Zambia, Indonesia
Type Hybrid
Energy Sectors
Business Model Types
Staff Size 5
Annual Budget $2,000,000
Major Funders Other non-profits, individual donors, family foundations, Vodafone Group Foundation, World Bank, Safaricom Foundation, Asda, NASDAQ, Tom Hanks
Awards 2001: Tech Museum of Innovation Award
2002: Stockholm Sustainable Cities Award
: Schwab Fellow of the World Economic Forum
2004: Santa Clara Global Social Benefit Incubator, Lifetime Fellow World Technology Network
2005: James C. Morgan Global Humanitarian Award
2006: World Bank Development Marketplace
2007: Time Magazine Hero of the Environment
2011: INDEX: Design to Improve Life Finalist
2011: SAB Innovation Award


Lifeline Energy is a not-for-profit that develops solar and crank powered radios, MP3s, lights, and solar panels and distributes them worldwide through partner NGOs. It owns a for-profit humanitarian-sector-focused new product development and trading arm, Lifeline Technologies Trading Ltd.


Energy Products/Services

Target Market

  • Critically poor women, vulnerable children and refugees who have no access to modern energy including access to radio or lighting


LIfeline Energy

Revenue Streams

  • Donations and grants
  • Sale of products by Lifeline Technologies Trading Ltd.

Value Proposition


  • Lifeline Energy re-branded and re-launched itself and started over in April 2010. Previously, known as Freeplay Foundation, it has been distributing self-powered radios since 1999 and lights since 2008.
  • Lifeline has developed radios and MP3 players for group listening and lights and solar panels for family use that don’t require electricity or disposable batteries.
  • Millions of children across sub-Saharan Africa are receiving a high quality, basic education listening to its radios in Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Somaliland.
  • Ambitious broadcast informational programmes provide mainly women listeners with critical information on HIV/AIDS prevention, hygiene, nutrition, environmental issues, and business development.
  • Radios and MP3 players are listened to by groups, and therefore each unit benefits dozens to hundreds of people.

Problem Addressed

  • Radio remains the primary medium of communication in developing countries, where most people live below the poverty line.
  • Many millions of dollars are spent on excellent education and informational radio programs, but the poorest have no means to access it.
  • Lack of electricity, low literacy rates, and no access to television or the Internet deny the poorest the lifeline of information that could help them with safety, health and means of a livelihood.  They may also likely have limited mobile phone access.
  • In addition, millions around the world lack access to clean, safe energy for lighting.
  • Women bear an extra burden in many communities, as control of existing radios, flashlights, and batteries is generally in the hands of men.
  • Orphans and other vulnerable children in sub-Saharan Africa are likely to have no access to radio information and safe lighting

Where They Are Now

Impact to Date

  • More than 500,000 radios and lights distributed and conservatively reaching 20 million listeners, primarily women and children mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • 100,000 direct beneficiaries in 2011.
  • Innovated durable self-powered radio, light, and MP3 player designed for the underserved.


  • 1998: Freeplay Foundation is legally established.
  • 1999: Freeplay Foundation begins operating and maintains separate boards and operations from Freeplay Energy, a commercial company
  • 2003: Lifeline Radio launched, the first radio created for the humanitarian sector
  • 2008: Freeplay Energy sold to an Indian investor
  • 2008: Lifelight solar and wind-up light launched
  • 2009: Freeplay Foundation establishes its own new product development and trading company, Lifeline Technology Trading Ltd.(LTTL)
  • 2010: Freeplay Foundation is relaunched and rebranded and starts over as Lifeline Energy.  It cuts ties with Freeplay Energy in the UK which goes into liquidation.
  • 2010: Prime Radio which replaces Lifeline radio and Lifeplayer MP3 enabled radio and recorder are launched.

How They Deliver

product sourcing & Development

  • Lifeline puts a great deal of focus on developing products based on the assessed needs of users.
  • Lifeline/Freeplay Foundation originally sourced all its products from Freeplay Energy, and co-developed some of Freeplay Energy’s products based on research into the needs of its beneficiaries.
  • In 2009, Lifeline received funding to develop a new product, the Lifeplayer, but Freeplay under its new management was not interested.  Lifeline established a for-profit partner organization, Lifeline Technologies Trading Ltd.(LTTL), from which it would source products going forward.
  • Now Lifeline Technologies is Lifeline’s primary source of products, and produces the Lifeplayer and Prime and lighting products.
  • Lifeline and LTTL’s close relationship enables sharing of back-office functions for cost savings.
  • LTTL manufactures in China, but continues to face challenges with the current global economic climate.  With many factory closures and with lines of credit withdrawn throughout the manufacturing value chain LTTL is often required to fund inventory and components purchases well before receipt of payments.

Revenue & Affordability

  • Lifeline’s products are thus far donated to beneficiaries.  Many are included in projects for classroom use to support distance education.
  • Most Lifeline beneficiaries are either critically poor women, children who head households, or refugees, who would not have any way to access its products if they had to pay for them.
  • However, Lifeline is now looking into a franchising model selling lower-cost products.
  • LTTL is interested in partnering with larger manufacturers of electronics to achieve better economies of scale as well as developing novel product and energy platforms and associated distribution partnerships to achieve scale in non-donation and non-subsidized markets.



  • When Lifeline Energy (as Freeplay Foundation) was associated with Freeplay Energy, it received roughly 15-20% of its funding from Freeplay Energy, which it used to cover overheads.
  • In exchange, Freeplay Energy used Freeplay Foundation’s work as a marketing tool and promised its customers that a percentage of sales would support humanitarian work through the charity.
  • When Freeplay Energy was sold in 2008, the new owner no longer wanted to fund Freeplay Foundation as he had no interest in humanitarian initiatives.
  • This in part led to Freeplay Foundation forming its own product company and becoming Lifeline Energy.  Lifeline Technologies was initially funded by Lifeline Energy, and later by angel investments with Lifeline Energy retaining 70% ownership of the trading company.  The profits of Lifeline Technologies Trading revert to Lifeline Energy for core funding.


  • Lifeline distributes its products in 3 ways:
      1. Other NGOs buy Lifeline products for a project.
      2. Lifeline sees a need in a particular region, raises the money to cover the cost of the initiative, including product costs, and partners with local NGOs to deliver them.
      3. A content partner wants to deliver educational content to a particular community and procures Prime radios or Lifeplayer MP3 players to do so.
  • A Prime radio or Lifeplayer is usually provided to a teacher, child-head of household, or community leader who is responsible for its use and care on behalf of a group. Each radio is estimated to have 40-200 listeners.


  • Lifeline mainly markets to NGOs, funders and individuals donating products online, and has 3 celebrity ambassadors, US actor Tom Hanks, British humanitarian Terry Waite, and South African adventurer Sibuso Vilane
  • Lifeline Technologies leverages Lifeline Energy’s strong partner network.  In addition to this LTTL has a long term supply agreement with UNICEF, and by extension all United Nations organizations.  LTTL also markets through annual humanitarian trade shows in the USA, Africa, Middle East and Europe.


More Resources

Online Resources

Contact Information

Lifeline Energy
71 Gloucester Place
London W1U 8JW
United Kingdom

( +44 (0) 207 935 5350