Shining Bright in Rural Mexico

By Katie Waddell, Santa Clara University, Marketing, 2017

Isabel Miranda installing Iluméxico’s solar home system in Chilan-Balan.

Isabel Miranda installing Iluméxico’s solar home system in Chilan-Balan.

“I’ll never forget the look of this little boy as soon as we turned on the light bulb in his home. He lit up along with the light and couldn’t stop smiling and pointing at the light bulb saying: “luz, luz!””

Isabel Miranda reflects on her experience in rural Chilan-Balan, a small village in Mexico previously without light. Isabel worked with Iluméxico, a social enterprise that offers affordable solar home systems to alleviate energy poverty in Mexico. During her time in areas like Chilan-Balan Isabel helped the organization install twenty home systems in two days. Children and adults alike watched in awe at the magic


Isabel’s work with the social enterprise was coordinated through the Global Social Benefit Fellowship (GSBFⓇ) program at Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship. The fellowship is a nine-month action research program that selects undergraduate students at Santa Clara University to curate projects for social enterprises. Isabel was among a cohort of eighteen fellows in the program and worked alongside one research partner, Madeline Nguyen, for Iluméxico specifically. In their project the two students measured the impact that Iluméxico’s solar home systems have on end beneficiaries, particularly compared to the experience government program recipients have with the traditional government aid model. The girls also introduced a solar cooler prototype generated by Santa Clara University engineers and researched the impact it could generate in rural communities.

To implement this research project the girls spent two months travelling through rural areas of Mexico, conducting a total of 50 semi-structured interviews: 32 regarding the satisfaction of participants’ solar home systems and 17 regarding the solar cooler prototype. Apart from time spent in Mexico the students dedicated countless hours and energy to the project both before the travels and after, as they planned their work and then analyzed the results. This analysis and dedication allowed the girls to develop professional reports that will instill lasting impact for the company and the rural Mexican citizens it serves.



Isabel and Madeline’s work resulted in three thoroughly researched, impact-driven reports for Iluméxico:

●      Comparative Study

●      Referral Program Proposal

●      Solar Cooler Report

To fully adhere to the needs of the organization Isabel and Madeline offered each report in both English and Spanish. They doubled their hard work to cater specifically to the organization and its cultural context, showcasing their commitment to the mission and furthering their impact.


In the comparative study, Isabel unpacks field data comparing Iluméxico’s social entrepreneurial approach versus the donation-based government program. She discovered that the enterprise’s business model generated greater impact for end beneficiaries than the government system. Her research in the field led Isabel to uncover the specific key elements in Iluméxico’s business model that generate greater customer satisfaction:

●      Stronger after-sales services

●      Deep customer relations

●      Incentives for customers to “move up the energy ladder” and to collaborate with the organization to extend service to more community members

Upon analyzing these findings, Isabel recognized how Iluméxico and the government can generate deeper impact for Mexican citizens by coming together. This partnership could deliver greater impact and be cost-effective for reducing energy poverty across the country. The partnership would leverage both organizations’ strengths as they could reach more customers and then instill deeper, more sustainable impact.


Isabel’s research allowed her to recognize that a referral program would help Iluméxico increase its client base. The proposal outlines potential benefits a referral program can offer, backing her analysis with evidence from similar social enterprise case studies. She then recommends that Iluméxico conduct further research to gage the best strategy for developing an effective program. Research should be broken into two steps:

1.    Conduct a competitor analysis

2.    Execute a randomized control study

After gathering the necessary research and analyzing results, Iluméxico could then design a program that will be most effective to the specific people it serves. Isabel offers two examples of potential program structures:

1.    A discount program, in which both the recommender and new customer would receive discounts for participating in referral.

2.    A gift with purchase, such as a solar flashlight, gifted to both the recommender and the new customer. This would also increase exposure to more of Iluméxico’s products.


According to Isabel’s analysis, a referral program can also help the company incorporate government recipients into its client base - offering a way to achieve the recommendation she made in the comparative study report.

Isabel with a solar cooler prototype.

Isabel with a solar cooler prototype.


For Santa Clara University, this product comes full circle. The prototype Isabel and Madeline presented was designed by undergraduate engineering students, and the analysis of how it can change lives was engineered by the two undergraduate fellows. The report developed by Isabel and Madeline outlines this analysis and recommends that Iluméxico add solar coolers to its product line. The interviews indicated an existing viable market for solar coolers, as 100% of respondents expressed interest in the product, and 91% responded that they would buy the product. The difference in commitment rests in dedicating valuable income, so the solar cooler would need to be price sensitive. Isabel and Madeline kick-started a deeper look into the need for food preservation in rural Mexico. They observed how making a food cooler affordable and energy-efficient can meet this need and improve health. They developed next steps for Iluméxico based off these findings:

1.    Look for possible manufacturers and calculate best-case margin cost for the solar cooler in order to give an accurate price.

2.    Conduct a user experience pilot study in which customers use the solar cooler for a few months and report back the positive and negative aspects of the product.

Iluméxcio solar light

Iluméxcio solar light



Programs like GSBF further Miller Center’s mission to touch lives and work towards poverty eradication. It furthers Santa Clara’s Jesuit mission to educate the whole person and serve communities in our world. Isabel and Madeline directly impacted lives when installing solar home systems in Mexico. Their reports will help Iluméxico impact more lives as they find tangible ways to eradicate energy poverty. Both Isabel and Madeline express unwavering passion to improve the lives of those most in need. They have gained the experience and further knowledge of how to tackle today’s most challenging social injustices. Miller Center is investing in generations that will drive our future towards social good.

Madeline Nguyen at Iluméxico

Madeline Nguyen at Iluméxico



“My passion for social justice and ambitions to be a life-long agent for change remain, but now they blaze brighter than ever.”


“This fellowship challenged me on both a personal and academic level no other class or experience has during my undergraduate career. I know the social entrepreneurship industry is more challenging and there is never an answer laid out for you, but I am determined to help find or build solutions for these global problems.”