Somewhere in between my rapidly decaying body and my rapidly decaying mind is a slumbering mid-life crisis. There will be no cherry-red convertible and a mistress half my age, but when my thoughts do stray into the possibilities of life-improving changes that can be made the fact that I’m still slugging away in the thankless realm of unit-pushing retail finds itself naked in the spotlight.
It’s not so bad, of course, which is why I’ve been able to stay for so long. They leave me alone and let me do what I do without any oversight, they don’t mind the fact that I’m a slob who shows up a little late here, leaves a little early there. I don’t interact with customers except through the safety of the internet, I have a little computer in the corner and I’ve been able to amass a collection of bizarre import DVDs and countless records. The company isn’t horrible, doesn’t go out of its way to destroy the world or exploit anyone; they try to donate money to worthy causes and collect old batteries and personal electronics for recycling. However, the daily knowledge that I contribute to a cycle of plastic exchanging hands hangs heavily over my head and makes me feel useless and lazy, caught in a trap of an empty existence. Underneath the general curiosity and compulsive clicking that takes me from one corner of the internet to the next is a search for something that might resonate within the core of my being.
The entrepreneurial spirit is not strong in me, so I find what people come up with endlessly fascinating. Today Dave Richards of Defeating Global Poverty introduced a new company called Burro operating in Ghana renting rechargeable batteries to locals. The business plan is straightforward: electricity is unreliable or unavailable to many citizens who have to operate lanterns and radios by battery power. The favorite brand is Tiger Head, a low charge disposable zinc-carbon variety dry-cell that corrodes and releases manganese dioxide. People using batteries to keep their houses lit at night or ghetto blasters blaring all day burn through these quickly, throw them away and have to buy more.
Burro imports cheap Chinese rechargeables and rents them to people who have signed on for monthly accounts. The high-quality rechargeable batteries can be swapped out as frequently as needed through any number of agents who resupply them and recharge the spent batteries. For a moderate sum per month (roughly equal to three times the cost of a single Tiger Head D-Size battery) customers are guaranteed as much battery power as they need for a set cost.
The company was started by Whit Alexander, co-founder of the Cranium board game. Presumably the sale of Cranium to Hasbro has lined Whit’s pockets with enough capital to invest in this innovative project currently being run out of the city of , due north of the capital Accra. They set up shop and began to hire a team of partners, agents and salespeople; by all accounts the idea has caught on very quickly with the Ghanaians and subscriptions have soared. So we have a company that provides a necessary service which gives people steady jobs while reducing the amount of toxic trash polluting the world. Expanding slowly into neighboring villages the company is effectively establishing a network which can be used for future projects.
Still there’s a little rough with the smooch. I’m not keen on cheap Chinese imports, although I understand that trying to supply an African nation with affordable products must be a challenge. It’s also distressing in an irrational way to see yet another wealthy white guy swooping into the continent and wrapping the locals in his benevolent arms. It doesn’t make him a bad person, of course, and I believe that his intentions are good, but it still sits uneasily in my gut. I hope that when the business is established Alexander spins his participation off to the local partners he’s working with and lets them take the reins for the next Burro ride.
Both pictures are stolen from the Burro Brand blog. You can check it out and follow their progress as they take over the local battery market.