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Olafur Eliasson launches successful appeal to kickstart Little Sun's next big project

Solar-powered mobile phone charger is designed to fill gap in African market

The Berlin-based, Danish-Icelandic artist and co-founder of Little Sun, Olafur Eliasson, was in London yesterday, 3 September, and in Stockholm before that, as a survey show of his work is due to open at the Moderna Museet on 3 October. But this week the artist had Africa uppermost in mind, launching Little Sun's first Kickstarter campaign to raise €50,000 to start manufacturing its innovative, solar-powered mobile phone charger, which he helped co-design. In only two days pledges have reached nearly €100,000.

Little Sun, which Eliasson co-founded with the engineer Frederik Ottesen, has already delivered thousands of bright yellow, low-cost solar powered lamps to ten countries in Africa, aiming in particular to meet the need of communities in rural areas that are off-grid. Thousands more have been sold worldwide since its launch in 2012.

The Little Sun Charger is the result of customer feedback. "Every time we were in sub-Saharan Africa people would say the Little Sun is amazing but a mobile phone charger would be much better," Eliasson says. Typically it costs around $1 to get a phone charged from a diesel generator at a kiosk in Africa, he says.

A Little Sun team visited Senegal earlier this year while developing a prototype and found that in one village there were 84 mobile phones owned by its 130 inhabitants. Little Sun covered the cost of research and development of the charger over the past two years but it now needs funding to place an order large enough to keep its retail price in Africa as low as possible. "We need [Kickstarter] to order the first batch of 20,000 to 40,000. That way the price is less than if we only order 15,000," Eliasson explains. Little Sun hopes that sellers will be able to price the charger at around $35 to $45. "We suggest you can run a small business and cover the cost of the charger in a month."

Eliasson visits Ethopia three or four times a year, where he teaches at the Addis Ababa University's art school. Ten years ago he co-founded 121Ethiopia with his wife, the art historian Marianne Krogh Jensen. The NGO works to help vulnerable children in Ethiopia. He is also proud that Addis Ababa's Modern Art Museum hosted his first solo show in sub-Saharan Africa earlier this year.