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Freeplay Foundation
History and Background

Our History

In 1998, Freeplay Energy (formerly Freeplay Energy Group) established the non-profit Freeplay Foundation as an extension of its social commitment. Freeplay Energy’s core purpose is ‘to make energy available to everybody all of the time’, but co-founder Rory Stear realised people who needed the technology the most could not afford to buy a Freeplay radio, the first self-powered Freeplay product developed. With a strong sense of social justice, Rory established the Foundation in the UK. However, from day one, it ran under the direction of Chief Executive Kristine Pearson with its own board of directors and was totally separate from Freeplay Energy.

Who We Are

Transforming lives through dependable, self-sufficient and environmentally friendly technologies

The link between poverty and the lack of access to clean, modern energy is profound. Energy for lighting and communications are basic needs – and out of reach for millions of people around the world.

A farmer listens to the radio for news of the incoming cyclone, ready to spread the alarm to her neighbours.

A child, orphaned by conflict and caretaker of his younger brothers, is soothed by voices on the radio as they fall asleep at a refugee camp.

With safe, renewable lighting, a midwife assists a night-time birth with no fear of fumes from hazardous kerosene or firewood.

With a bright LED light, a girl studies after sundown, when her long day of chores has finally come to an end.

For many people living in poverty, radio is their lifeline, providing information that can mean the difference between life and death. Clean, safe lighting can make study possible, extend the working day for increased income and improve the quality of health care. Until recently, radios and lights were out of reach for most people in poverty – usually defined as living on less than US$1 per day. Disposable batteries are prohibitively expensive, especially for children living on their own. Kerosene, candles and firewood use more than 15% of already meagre household incomes. They cause respiratory problems and fires that destroy lives and property.

Our Solution

The Freeplay Foundation wants to change all that. Our wind-up and solar-powered Freeplay Lifeline radios provide sustainable access to information and education. Since 2003, more than 160,000 Lifeline radios have been distributed, conservatively reaching six million listeners. Our projects address the pressing needs of orphans and other vulnerable children, women, refugees and people who are ill.

To help meet the need and demand for portable clean energy sources, we are expanding into the renewable lighting sector. After conducting lighting needs assessments of vulnerable households in rural and peri-urban areas of South Africa, we are working with Freeplay Energy’s engineers to create a range of fit-for-purpose clean energy lights called ‘Lifelights’. Like the Lifeline radio, they will be powered by patented Freeplay wind-up technology or by solar power.

In addition, we have launched two pilot projects with the Weza foot-powered generator. The Weza, developed by Freeplay Energy, can power cell phones and other low energy devices. Using the Weza, we are working with communities in Rwanda and Zambia to establish self-financing small energy businesses. These entrepreneurs – mainly women – provide fee-based energy services, including cell phone charging and LED light charging and rental.

With access to information, education and light, people seize educational and economic opportunities to improve health, create jobs and advance quality of life. We are committed to act as stewards of the environment to make clean energy technologies available to those in need.  

Our Mission

Our mission is to transform lives through dependable, self-sufficient and environmentally friendly technologies. We work primarily in sub-Saharan Africa with a special focus on the needs of orphans and other vulnerable children, women, refugees and people who are ill.

 Freeplay Energy

In 1998, Freeplay Energy (formerly Freeplay Energy Group) established the non-profit Freeplay Foundation as an extension of its social commitment. Although other companies manufactured versions of wind-up and solar-powered radios, only Freeplay had developed patented technology within its products. Freeplay is the world leader in transferring wind-up technology to the poorest of the poor, the people least able to access the information and education that could help lift them out of poverty.

The Foundation is a wholly separate organisation from Freeplay Energy with a board of trustees and staff of development sector experts led by Chief Executive Kristine Pearson. The Foundation was registered as a charity in England and Wales in 1998. In 2001, we became recognised as a 501 (c)(3) charitable organisation in the USA, as well as a Section 21 non-profit in South Africa. Headquarters are in London, with a regional office in Johannesburg and satellite offices in the US. 

Our Values

Our values underpin everything we do.

Excellence: Striving for excellence is a way of life. It inspires and sustains us in all that we do. We continually demand the best of ourselves in service delivery to all our stakeholders, externally and internally. A commitment to excellence requires that we

- respond urgently and vigorously to opportunity
- distribute the best quality products which are safe to use and environmentally clean
- develop enduring partnerships
- deliver effective and timely projects
- adopt rigorous standards of performance evaluation
- Innovation: We hold that the most complex and intractable problems – from poverty to environmental degradation – are capable of creative resolution. This impels us to seek opportunities to place innovative and clean technologies at the service of even the most remote, forgotten and disenfranchised sectors of society. We seek to approach entrenched and long-running problems with a fresh and original eye. We scan the environment constantly for novel and effective models of operation. We aspire to create new alliances across unlikely boundaries and in places where they may never have been found before.

Partnership: Partnerships lie at the heart of our work. We believe that lasting improvements in people’s lives come about when all those directly involved and affected by change are offered space for their voices to be heard, and access to a platform from which they can participate. We seek partners who share our goals and values, and with whom we can co-create vehicles for collective research, participative service delivery, joint evaluation and learning.

Integrity: Integrity in daily action is the cornerstone upon which we judge ourselves and the yardstick against which we invite our stakeholders to measure us. Cultivating integrity begins within and builds outward to others. We value a climate of mutual trust in our own environment and with our stakeholders, in which we share and exchange perspectives. When we share the stories of those we seek to serve, we do so with sensitivity, respect and dignity.


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