By Philippa Hitchen
Pope Francis’ encyclical letter, Laudato Si’, published in 2015, was hailed as a heartfelt appeal for the future of planet earth, or, as the pope puts it, a call to all people to take “care of our common home”.
Among the many responses to that call is an initiative by private investors inviting entrepreneurs and start-up companies to develop ideas responding to the challenges spelt out in Laudato Si’. From renewable energy and recycling, to clean water, food security or supporting refugees, young businessmen and women have been asked to come up with innovative solutions to some the most pressing problems facing our world today.
The project is called the Laudato Si’ Challenge and it has the support of Cardinal Peter Turkson, head of the Vatican office for Integral Human Development. From thousands of entries, the heads of nine companies have been selected as finalists to receive mentoring, both from Silicon Valley professionals and from Vatican officials.
Among them is Steve Katsaros, CEO of a company called Nokero (short for No Kerosene) that produces pocket-size solar lamps using the sun’s rays to charge a battery-powered LED light. After presenting his company to Vatican officials, Steve talked to us about the ideas motivating his business venture..
Steven says he started Nokero in 2010 to address the problem of over a billion people worldwide who have no access to electricity, relying instead on Kerosene lamps which are inefficient, dangerous and damaging to their health.
As an inventor, he created the small solar bulb which is light and portable, waterproof and durable, providing 15 hours of light from each charge out in the sunshine. So far, Steve says, the company has shipped 1.7 million units to 120 countries across the globe.
Impact on lives and communities
Describing the impact his product has had, he tells the personal story of a young Kenyan man who got in touch via Facebook to say how he had been able to study by the light of a Nokero lamp, becoming the first person in his family to go on to college. The man told Steve his younger siblings are still using the same lamp to further their own education, something that was unthinkable for them just a few years earlier.
Steve says he belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church, while the companies represent a non-denominational group of entrepreneurs, all inspired by the Pope’s encyclical letter.
Overcome economic injustice
He says he feels it’s time “we all acknowledge that we have been over consuming and not taking fair advantage of the resources we have at the top of the economic pyramid”. Noting that “8 white men have as much wealth as bottom half of humanity”, he says it’s up to his generation to overcome that injustice. “I’m 44 years old guy with 2 young kids”, he concludes “and I don't want them to inherit my trash pile. I want [the world] to be a garden that thrives and supports them, and their children, and their children’s children”.