2020 – may it be the decade of light

    January 09, 2020


    Our Head of CSR, Prajna Khanna, looks back at 2019, and some key moments, to get inspired for the next year (and decade)


    We’ve just finished turning the lights out on 2019, a year marked by tumultuous world events that saw global temperatures and tensions rise, and societies become increasingly polarized. It was enough to trigger pangs of despair – even in an eternal optimist like me!

    I started in this role in 2015, when an estimated 1.6 billion people in the world were living off-grid or underserved by the grid. In the four years since, that figure has almost halved to 860 million people as per the State of Electricity Access Report of the World Bank (SEAR).

    This is an incredible leap forward, one partly facilitated by the maturation of the solar sector in Sub-Saharan Africa as well as India’s rapid rural electrification program.

    An important lesson from 2019

    One crucial learning for me from this past year is that practice beats theory hands down. As is with our corporate affiliate Signify, the team at Signify Foundation prides itself on its ability to innovate and we are encouraged by our Board that empowers us to go beyond traditional models of philanthropy to pilot new models of interventions.

    Agility, adaptation and resilience are even more important than the ability to innovate"

    But even with the most well thought-out strategies and models, the real test is in the field. The impact of the human factor, cultural differences and political contexts both within organizations and in countries cannot be underestimated.

    Agility, adaptation and resilience are even more important than the ability to innovate. Forecasting or predicting outcomes over several years without piloting, as is required by lengthy and thorough funding application by donors, is at best an educated guess.

    In 2020, we hope to pivot towards agile testing and a “fail fast” approach to optimize the resources being mobilized towards bridging the energy access gap.

    Informal experience sharing in India

    In December, I spent a week in India with my colleagues Natasha and Rakesh, reflecting on the year gone by and planning our CSR initiatives for 2020. Considering the rapid pace of electrification in India, we used informal meetings with our peers and other industry stakeholders to gain insights that could inform our future strategy there.

    This process of sharing led to invaluable insights based on the experiences of other corporate foundations, industry policy experts and thinktanks operating in India.  The key takeaway for us is to shift from viewing energy access as a goal in itself but to see energy and light access as a means to an end – underpinning other developmental needs.

    This is validated through the SEAR Report as a key finding, “Energy is inextricably linked to every other critical sustainable development challenge – health, education, food security, gender equality, poverty reduction, employment, and climate change, to name a few. That is why meeting universal electricity access is essential to reaching other 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

    This theory met reality, when we visited a Kanwarsika senior secondary school in Mewat, a small Meo-Muslim community in a primarily Hindu area. The India team has been working with their partner the SRF Foundation, Gurgaon Haryana to light up badminton courts in rural, government schools in the area.

    Unjila Mewat

    Lighting, but so much more

    On its surface, this is a simple lighting intervention. But its impact on the lives of the 40 girls and 40 boys was both deeper and more unexpected. The students, who have been able to train after school hours, for the first time qualified for the state-level games! This achievement goes far beyond a sporting success; the impact on their health, self-belief and confidence, attendance at school and the perception of women in sports in this deeply conservative region.

    The long-term impact on the mindset of a young girl from a conservative family who competes at this level of sport was decidedly not one of the expected KPIs of this lighting intervention!"

    I was both honored and touched to meet Unjila, a talented young badminton player who represented the school and outperformed the entire group at the state games, competing at the highest level for her age group.

    The long-term impact on the mindset of a young girl from a conservative family who competes at this level of sport was decidedly not one of the expected KPIs of this lighting intervention!

    How Unjila perceives herself and how she’s perceived by those around her has been transformed. She’s seen as a role model for others in her area, carving new paths and opportunities for herself and other girls.

    As her coach explained, “Step by step they have gone ahead, first qualifying, then making through the levels and next year we hope Unjila will bring home the trophy”.

    It’s not only about the light but laying the groundwork for such a profound personal and community success reset my optimist’s compass and has given me renewed energy for the next year, and the next decade.

    Onward, into 2020 – the decade of light!

    About the author:

    Prajna Khanna

    Prajna Khanna,


    Head of CSR

    For further information, please contact:

    Head of Corporate Content, Signify
    Neil Pattie
    Tel: + 31 6 15 08 48 17

    About Signify


    Signify (Euronext: LIGHT) is the world leader in lighting for professionals and consumers and lighting for the Internet of Things. Our Philips products, Interact connected lighting systems and data-enabled services, deliver business value and transform life in homes, buildings and public spaces. In 2022, we had sales of EUR 7.5 billion, approximately 35,000 employees and a presence in over 70 countries. We unlock the extraordinary potential of light for brighter lives and a better world. We achieved carbon neutrality in our operations in 2020, have been in the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index since our IPO for six consecutive years and were named Industry Leader in 2017, 2018 and 2019. News from Signify is located at the Newsroom, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram. Information for investors can be found on the Investor Relations page.

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