How One Startup is Bringing Solar to Millions of Families in Poverty

Greenlight Planet has sold over three million solar home lights to off-grid families through an in-house network of over 5,000 active village direct sales agents.

We bring them light, and the promise of a more productive and healthier life. Tweet This Quote

In a third party study families using Greenlight solar lanterns reported their school-going children studied for 75 percent longer on average. Moving forward, Greenlight is keen to position their most affordable solar lantern, the $10 Eco, as a study light for rural off-grid Girls. In addition to giving Girls the ability to study at night, these lanterns also prevent the use of kerosene (which has major health implications for Girls and their mothers).

This post is part of a series profiling ventures in first accelerator program dedicated to impacting the lives of millions of girls in poverty. For more information on the program, check out the Girl Effect Accelerator website.

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  • This is a wonderful initiative. I know for a fact that I take for granted being able to read, work, and many other things well after the sun has set. Bringing that convince to a whole new region of the world safely and efficiently is a wonderful thing.

  • “ask what the problem is, what their pain is, and solve for that” I like that quote. You may think you know what their problem and solve for the wrong need. Communication is the secret to success.

  • Greenlight planet has surfaced a brilliant idea for this country. They will provide extra light for people to get more work done, specifically school girls. I am left with only troublesome question. What is stopping boys from stealing these from girls?

  • Definitely asking the questions will help solve the problems, these people surely didn’t think there was a problem. They only knew one way and that to them is the right way. I’m happy to see that a company found a way to give these villages a new option to light. Something so simple as a light to study with, makes me think about what I take for granted each day as I’m studying.

  • This is a fantastic way to show how, by coming together, people can make a huge difference in the lives of others all over the world. Anish makes a good point about making sure we are asking what the problem really is so we solve for the right variable. That is a lesson that we should all learn.

  • There is a lot of good in this project and it seems they have put a lot of time into making their product useful for those who didn’t know they needed it. However I don’t really understand why this is under the Girl Accelerator section. While some girls will be helped by this light, there are plenty others who will not be able to use it because culturally their needs are put last. I believe this video would’ve been much more fitting in another discussion section because they made no mention on how they will be specifically helping girls at all.

  • Sounds to me like an opportunity for some entrepreneur in India to create a power plant and run electricity to homes. That would solve multiple “problems.”

  • This seems like a really good thing.
    I wonder about the battery life, though. According to their website, the batteries last about 5 years, which is awesome as far as rechargeable batteries go, but what then? Are the batteries interchangeable? If so, how much does a new battery cost? Somewhere like the U.S., this is a minor consideration, and I imagine it won’t be a huge deal there either, I just hate to see throw-away culture unwittingly spread in very well-meaning attempts to help improve the lives of people in the developing world.

  • My favorite part of Greenlight Planet’s marketing/distribution methods is the recruitment of a local representative. As the Greenlight Planet team discovered early on, change cannot be imposed from the outside but must be generated from within a community. Greenlight developped a new type of solution to the community need for light. They then continued with the reasoning that change is generated internally and utilized the help of a local community member to empathize with, and present alternative solutions to, the needs of other community members.

  • It is remarkable that Greenlight is using their technology to better these families, and in doing so are changing and lightening the work involved in family duties. This solar lighting is giving these people more resources that will aide in many daily aspects.

  • It’s great that these were made and influenced off of a failure to start. They saw how their original product was being used, and adapted to what their customers really wanted. Not only that, they were driven to find a better way to accomplish bring light to off grid homes then using the tradition kerosene lanterns to improve the health and safety of their customers.

  • I love that quote too. I think so many people who start these charities think that they know what these people need to improve their lives, yet they probably haven’t even talked to these communities face to face. We forget about the basic necessities because it feels like we’ve always had them. The last time I heard about one of my family members not having light was during the Great Depression. It’s great that they treated their last project as a failure and moved on.

  • I definitely agree that this quote and the organizations failed experience really stimulated a feasible and acceptable solution to a problem, that as mentioned may not have been seen as an initial problem. I think all to often when we look at the problems individuals or groups of individuals face, we jump to the solution process without first understanding the root causes or genuine needs of the people experiencing the problem. I do not think this is a discredit to the genuine desire to help those in need, rather an error in judgment that neglects to understand those who face the problem. In this case, because they were able to understand that the problem, was not really seen as a problem. Therefore, the organization had to by strategic and systematic in their approach because they had a genuine desire to help these people, but also were sensitive to their traditional lamp use because it was a norm. Additionally, I thought it was powerful that they were able to work with a local to communicate with others about the benefits of the product, because they were able to relate to each others experiences. When looking at this video, it may be able for someone to argue that this solution was common sense, in that of course you should consult with the people you aim to help. However, when in the situation, sometimes your desire to help may cloud your understanding and judgment. This is a reminder that sometimes you have to fail to succeed. And as long as genuine understanding has been reached, great things are possible.

  • Green light set out initially with a solution without really addressing the problem. Once they failed they learned that they needed to provide a solution to the kerosene light problem by identifying what the villagers really needed. As interesting and innovative as their product is, what really struck me was the way they were able to spread their device through the villages of India and Africa. The idea of showing the villagers who were reluctant to switch over to the lantern that they were just the same as the people who already had made the switch was genius and has helped their integration into many more villages and homes. The reason I was interested din this particular video is because I have invested in solar rechargeable lights and I was curious to see what difference Green Light was making in poor and underdeveloped communities.

  • I agree about generating change within a community. No matter how life-changing or beneficial an item may be, I think that if I was a villager, I would be skeptical of strangers coming up to me and trying to sell me things. I think that by congratulating themselves about their success with the generator, Thakkar and his group were just trying one option. Had they not returned a year later to check up on the results, they never would have learned ABOUT their mistake, nor would they have learned FROM it. Their plan sounded great on paper, but the best part about their plan was realizing its shortcomings and responding to the new needs of the people.

  • The fact that these lights increase children’s ability to study up to 75% is astonishing. Not only does this product lead to higher rates of learning and increased educational opportunity, it provides families with safety, stability, and healthiness. Due to the high cost of $40 per light, I’m curious what the company could do to reduce their production cost and become more affordable for other impoverished communities that are lacking access to electricity. Instead of costing nearly a months wages for these people, wouldn’t it be amazing if it only costed them one or two weeks at the most to purchase the light? Just some food for thought. Great company, great product, and great mission. Well done!!

  • The fact that solar energy and solar lights are taking off at these exponential rates is incredible. Greenlight seems to have a very bright future ahead of them and giving others the same.

  • It is refreshing to hear someone admit defeat. I think a lot of people in our society believe that sending donations of clothing and shoes into these developing countries is going to help solve a lot of problems, but what many people don’t realize is that they don’t need/want that stuff. As is the case in this video, rice huskers and spice grinders were not important to these people when all they wanted was light in their homes. It is important to understand the lifestyle of the people you are helping and to ask them what it is they truly need.

  • I really like how he described their initial failure. It’s too often that top-down aid is often disconnected with the people it is intended to help due to issues such as self reference criterion or failure to do hands on research. This is a cool example of learning and building from this mistake. It is amazing to see the impact solar technology is having on off-grid living. I was astounded to hear that the time children spent studying increased by 75% due to the introduction of the solar lights. It’s amazing how such a simple innovation can have such a profound positive impact.

  • I remember comments like this being mentioned in earlier posts as well as in class and I can’t help but agree and start questioning along the same lines. These people are doing amazing work, and by no means am I discrediting their hard work. I commend, and agree with some other comments on this article, that they did a phenomenal job at generating a deeper understanding of these peoples needs then meeting those. However, as storres001 has mentioned before, is there really any assurance that girls will be granted full use of this product? Or will cultural norms, etc. make it so their father or brother receives use of it far before they have the chance?

  • I agree that this is an awesome example of people coming together and how they can make a difference. I also think he makes a good point about trying to solve for what they actually need. I think it is also important to point out that he failed before, but he never gave up on trying to make a difference and that is also a lesson we should all learn.

  • I think this speaks volumes to the direction many non-profits need be headed. Not only does Greenlight offer a great product, but where they truly excel is in their understanding of their demographic, and subsequent use of locals which is a much better way of getting people on board with what they are doing.

  • I also like this quote, it’s one to remember as an entrepreneur. A certain road to failure is to build a product that no one wants. You must know what the problem really is in order to create a successful solution to it. It seems like Greenlight Planet has done a good job with that with their solar lantern, after the initial failure of the bio-fuel generator. Put yourself in the place of one of the villagers; your neighbor comes to you and suggests that you should purchase something that costs you a month’s wages, and this product is something that you’ve lived your entire life without. Personally, I’d be very hesitant, so the sales pitch must be great.I’d like to see the families be able to finance their purchase over a 4 month period instead of trying to lay all the cash out at once. Maybe I’ll offer to back a financing plan for Greenlight. If anyone else wants to go in on this, let me know. I’m glad to see that so many families are taking a chance on the light, and that it’s bettering their lives. Increased education and wages are a good start to advancing a culture.

  • I found it wise that Green Light found a local and allowed him to show the villagers on a more personal level what this solar light can do for them. I also found it good that they first made a mistake and then realized how to fix it because that is what we do in life. Again, this project is for the world not just girls. It was one of those that were tying loosely into the girl effect but not strongly. My opinion is if it doesn’t promote it strongly don’t try to make it fit. Focus solely on the advances of the product without feeling obligated to relate it to young girls.

  • In one of my classes today we learned about positioning or story telling to be able to sell your product. One of the tips we were given was to make sure you tell people about the “pain” you have that made you think about or create the product. like this guy said, their mistake was giving these people a solution to what he thought was a pain in their lives but really wasn’t. they figured out their demographic but failed to acknowledge the psychographics of the demographic so their project failed. Some people are so accustomed to the way they live and the things they use they aren’t used to change so I can understand why they wanted to stick to kerosene. But if switching to solar lighting can not only benefit them financially and help them live a healthy life then change is what they need. Its a great thing to see innovators create new things for the health and betterment of people.

  • great quote! it is very important to know what the problem is and more important to give the right solution.

  • I think it’s great how even after originally failing, Greenlight planet did not give up. This is a great idea because it will benefit families who live in the villages of India and Africa in more ways than one. It was interesting and frightening when he said that women were suffering from tuberculosis due to the lights they were using. This also encourages education, seeing as children can study for longer. I also think its great that they teamed up with an individual who lived in a village in India. By doing this, villages were more prone to accept these solar lanterns.

  • I really like Green light and their motivation to literally bring light to these people. I like that Green light is thinking about girls and how this will address gender roles in many rural places. Of course, I always wonder how much of the lighting will be given to girls in households compared to boys and men. It is a step to providing opportunities for girls, but there are culture issues at hand. I think it’s important to make sure that these men believe in the power of women and their daughters and that they will be willing to let the girls have access to Green light.

  • I love the tough lesson of asking first how can I help before just jumping in solution mode. I really think that made a fundamental difference in this whole business. What a need and productive idea. I’m thrilled to have been exposed to it.

  • As en entrepreneur this video really brought home the point that I may think I know what my customer’s needs are, but if it doesn’t align with what their needs really are, I need to be willing to listen to what they’re telling me and be flexible to adapt to them.

  • I do love this quote! Last semester I took a communication ethics course where we studied Paulo Freire. Freire spoke of the notion that some people go to oppressed populations and tell them what is they need–which is ultimately wrong. They should allow for these population to tell them exactly what they need and become allies with them to try to attain it. As the spoke person for this project states, “We gave them a solution they didn’t ask for.” I’m glad he was able to decipher what they actually needed and made it happen!

  • Green Light is jumping into an industry that has yet to scratch the surface of it’s enormous potential. Solar energy is still relatively new. As technology and efficiency improves, the sky is the limit for solar energy. With their positive motives, Green Light can make even more of an impact in the lives of others.

  • A very interesting lecture and how they developed their solutions to the problems. I agree with what some others said here before about the quote “ask what the problem is, what their pain is, and solve for that”, I think this is a great quote and shows like ´clbradley2015´ said, communication is key. Also interesting to see that school-children studied 75% longer than on average because of the lantern, now where can I get this lantern?

  • Wow, definitely a groundbreaking, innovative source of light energy. The statistics he mentioned were absolutely phenomenal, especially that it has an impact on an aspect such as education by increasing the villagers’ time to study with these solar lights in these households. Sometimes it takes failure to amend your solution and truly solidify it to something successful. The statistics about the Kerosene lantern really surprised me as well. I knew they couldn’t be anything good to be exposed to, but I did not realize the true severity of their effects. I honestly see this reaching the estimated 20,000,000 off-grid homes number by 2016, and continuously entering more homes across the globe. The most significant realization I got from the green light, is this is a start to a more green and efficient era. Not just to homes in first world countries like the United States, but especially to developing countries like Africa and parts of India. This creative, eco-friendly light source is just the beginning to the stable and thriving environment developing countries await for their future.

  • This is a great example of a company that over came two really big brick walls in their journey they weren’t expecting. Both times they had really great products, the first time wanting to give a generator that would help produce food and spices, people would think that it would have been received well. Then after realizing the true problem, lighting in the homes, to have the people reject it was one that I imagine the company wasn’t expecting. This is a great example of a company thinking on their feet and not giving up on their passion to help people in need. Though the villagers didn’t believe they needed better lighting, it was out of compassion and wanting a better life for them that this company found a way to help the villagers out.

  • I like how he talked about how he went into the country and did things the “old way”. They raised money and then tried to implement technology into a society where the innovations will help them solve a problem that could help, but is not the most important in their lives at the moment. I think that this is a very common series of events where groups of people think that they are doing others a favor, rather than trying to find the actual need of the people.

  • Yes, they did make a mistake by “Assuming”, but the good thing was they followed up a year later – realized the REAL problem – and provided a great solution to the real problem that was within. The greatest thing was they WERE ABLE to solve the real problem. They could of said: “Oops… I guess that didn’t work, let’s go home.” But no, they created the solar light for the homes at a very low cost. Awesome!

  • I think the fact that they tried to address a problem without asking what the problem is first was huge. As an aspiring engineer I catch myself going off on a design without properly understanding what the customer wanted. This can lead to hours of wasted work so communication is key, and knowing exactly what the problem you’re trying to solve is can be the key as well.

  • This just goes to show how important it is to give the buyers what they want. Not only is Greenlight a successful company, but they are doing this for a great cause. Hopefully many others will take a business and grow it for the better good.

  • I absolutely agree with this quote. To be successful you definitely need to listen to what the customers wants.

  • The power of Network Marketing; for even if you have the perfect
    solution/product doesn’t mean much if you are unable to effectively
    communicate. I concur with clbradley2015, how we communicate is the
    secret to success.

  • “we should have asked them what their problem is and solved for that.” This is so common in the United States, we don’t set back and ask what is the problem, we assume we know. We gave this village something they did not use or want, they wanted light however we didn’t know because we think we know what the problem is without asking. These lights are perfect for these villages because they last longer and are difficult to break, way to solve the problem they actually had and for asking rather than assuming.

  • I do love this quote! I absolutely agree. These lights are perfect for these villages because they last longer and are difficult to break also its charge from the sun. Many people will like it, its cheap and it can stay forever.

  • I think it was great that they provided them with a possible solution as well as teaching you that communication can solve many problems without you even knowing.

  • This is a good example of why you should know what the problem is before you start something. Once they figured out the problem, Greenlight really hit the nail on the head here by providing a great product. I’m glad he finally figured out their needs and got it for them.

  • I was actually allowed to work on a project in high school doing this exact same type of product. The product was given to third world countries in the South Pacific. We used headlamps instead so the people can be more mobile.

  • You are so right about finding the true problem. Often times people think they know exactly the problems and are working to solve the incorrect things.

  • This Greenlight Planet product is an innovator for change. It will be a game changer for children’s education in villages that are dimly light at night. Students can dedicate more time to their studies, which in result can lead to more scholars emerging from these villages and the future is bright for these students. This product will reduce the use of kerosene, which will improve the health of villagers, as well as the village being more sustainable and people living longer lives. I love this product because it will drastically impact the homes of over twenty million people by 2016. Change is coming, and the world is patiently waiting for it!

  • Or, they could have tried to force the idea on the villagers and blindly believe that they are helping–I respect that they recognized the problem and optimized the solution with the villagers in mind rather than their own do-good reputation. This is the kind of attitude that all companies and people interested in helping third-world countries should learn to adopt in order to be more effective problem-solvers.

  • I completely agree with a major point in his speech. We need to work for our customers and not for ourselves. Communication plays a huge role in the success of business and I think hearing his story is a great way to learn about how failing can be a good thing and lead to success!

  • I agree. Communication is so often ignored and people usually fail at certain things because they lack communication skills or do not communicate at all. I like how they learned from their failures and created a product that is actually better than their original idea.

  • I think oftentimes people from developed worlds try to impose solutions to problems without fully seeing the problem through the eyes of those affected. When governments and NGOs work with community leaders, results are better For a long time, to combat crime, police had an Us versus Them mentality, but a new strategy began to develop called community policing. By working with, community leaders to identify not just crime, but other community issues, police had a much greater effect.

  • One of the reasons i liked this article was the fact that the guy went back a year later to see how they were impacted. It is also probably the most important part of the video. If he had never gone back to check on the village he never would have figured out what their real problem was. It is also good because it shows you the lesson of making sure that you actually helped. Even if people think they are helping it could end up being something that does not actually help the people who need it.

  • I agree that it is important that he went back to check on the village. You have to have passion about your project and have to stay with it the whole way. It takes it to the heart and creates more meaning. He really helped make a difference.

  • I wanted to watch this video again. I love how the followed up. not many people go back to check up on the people and to see if what they did really help them or not. and it was a good thing they did because by checking back up they realized that they really didnt solve any problems for the people, they basically created one that they didnt need a solution for. and they ended up solving a real problem that the people were facing.

  • The generator powering spice grinders and rice huskers was not the issue. They did not ask the needs of the people but provided the wrong solution. The people needed and wanted light. This is usually the biggest problem with business or non-profits or government. They do not have to have a proper solution for the problem, they just come up with something that no one wants and waste time and money.

    I like that these guys finally figured out the needs. Making it safer because of the Kerosine educating of people but giving the need of light to all at what sounds like a low cost of ownership. It is amazing how something as simple as light has made these people so successful.

  • Cool and innovative idea! I think there is a huge push for companies to come up with healthier, greener products lately. It’s a slow movement but it the way of the future and it’s really nice to see that a company is taking such a caring approach. Many good things coming out of this product!

  • I agree with a major point in his speech. This solar lighting is giving these people more resources that will aide in many daily aspects.

  • This company really had a innovative idea, and a very valuable one. I completely agree with you in the fact that they made a solution that didn’t really fix the problem, but I applaud them for identifying what the real issue was. The fact that they can communicate to the reluctant villagers to switch over to their lanterns really hit me hard. Kindness goes a long way, and helping these people is incredible in my opinion, because now they can have resources that will go a long way.

  • This is something that should be standardized across the US. Implementing a new power grid would create thousands of government jobs. Wind and Solar energies have the potential to run all of our power, and completely uproot the coal industry, which is causing over half of the world’s greenhouse gasses. Yes, it is a very steep cost, but it will pay for itself and be sustainable for years to come. I think this should be put into production on a large scale.

  • This is a great innovation he was able to communicate clearly and acted upon finding the solution to the right problem. we need people like these

  • I think that Greenlight Planet is a great company that will benefit many individuals in poverty, giving individuals the means to study and prosper in academic areas. There’s one issue I see….In order for this to expand globally to all third world countries the costs will be exponential. I think he needs to address the costs of taking Greenlight Planet worldwide.

  • This is a great idea but I’d like to know what the company does when the lights just do not work anymore? At some point the components will wear. And while the villagers could buy another one, it’d be cool to have a buy back program that allows green light to then refurbish units, resell them at a lower cost, and possibly reach villages that experience even greater levels of poverty.

  • This highlights the importance of really knowing and understanding your customer’s needs and delivering a value proposition that addresses the “gain” and removes the “pain”.

  • That is a great idea! And I was also wondering that too. I think they should teach the villagers how to fix them incase they break so they don’t have to be dependent.

  • WOW! I love this video! What a awesome product that will do so many amazing things for so many people. I love seeing inventions like this, that really make a difference in peoples life. I love the quote, “We bring them light, and the promise of a more productive and healthier life.” I think this quote is perfect for the product presented here. I really like that the product presented is not only representing giving light, but a lot more than that. It is representing an over all better quality of life. Awesome!

  • I think he was trying to say that they would fix it if they broke. But, if it could not be fixed, I would also like to know what they would do! I would hope they would replace it.

  • I couldn’t agree more with what you have stated here. It is awesome to see this become so successful and to see it growing. I would love to start something as life changing as this.

  • You are so right! Solar energy is still relatively new. Which could be one of the main reasons this company is doing so good, but I also think they are doing good because of how the present the product. They don’t just present it as just a light that will last for a long time. Or a light that one break. They done even present it as a light that is “expensive”. They present it as something that will improve all areas of life. Such as, health and productivity. I think this is truly awesome.

  • I really like the motivation of the Green light and their motivation as well! I love how they aren’t only presenting light. They aren’t just presenting how good the light is, or how it won’t break. They present this light to give the family a overall better quality of life. Such as, health and productivity that will help they further a long to make more money, do better in school, etc.

  • This is a very good idea and great project. I have high hopes in where this project will go and how far they can improve these people’s lives.

  • This is truly a wonderful idea, I get that the tradition in using a lamp that has been used for years and years is a difficult thing to let go of; my initial thoughts were to the cost of the lamps and the kerosene therein, I am sure there has to be some value to the components of this expensive item in these villages, would the costs leftover be able to afford a trade in for a solar lamp as opposed to that of the kerosene?

  • I found this to be truly inspiring! It is always nice to see when businesses focus on making a difference in people’s live versus making a quick dollar. When you aim to make lives easier (and at times safer), success will find you..20,000 homes is impressive! Communication is key.

  • I really appreciated how this man had previously tried to help a struggling village and learned that in order to actually help struggling people you need to ask what it is they really need. This innovation of bringing solar light to the villages is very helpful for them. The other positive effects besides accessible light, like being able to extend work hours, shows that this product is truly beneficial in more ways than one. The product is a light, but its many functions lead to plenty of positive effects.

  • I appreciate Greenlights efforts to bring light to millions of poor villages. Such an amazing and helpful product, that satisfies the needs of the people. Affordable, durable, and sustainable.

  • I think it is interesting an interesting pivot maneuver. I would like to see the technology applied in different ways, because I think that the idea has potential to serve a bigger purpose, maybe in transportation? What if the lights were used in cars? The common trend of switching from gas or fuel to solar power for many things, is highly effective and has a lot of potential.

  • Extremely great idea. You are definitely right understanding the demographic is important. Im a little confused on how they are managing the sales with the 5000 sales agents.

  • It is good to know how the manufacturer is being considerate of the negative effects that kerosene has on women. The trial and error process that Greenlight Planet experience lead to the development of something that is truly beneficial.

  • I love that this product is being utilized where it is actually needed and not just being used for tedious and mind numbing tasks that we so often partake in here in the U.S.. In the hands of green light planet it is much more than just a light it is a stepping stone to a better quality of life for millions of families who other wise would most likely be forced to endure the dark much more than people should.

  • Every time I read an article about new innovations by The Girl Effect I am always just SO taken back on how the most basic, and such simple ideas can make the biggest changes in certain peoples lives. It truly is incredible. Not only is Greenlight offering an amazing product its bringing the ability for girls to have a future in the since of education.

  • There are several takeaways from this speech. It’s important
    that Anish highlighted his initial failure from the beginning. In order for
    society to progress, it’s important to grow and move on from failures. Anish’s
    main failure in his first venture was that he didn’t listen to the villagers.
    He created a solution to a problem that didn’t exist. When he listened he was
    able to figure out the actual problem and develop his solution (the light).

    Once he was able to make the technology, he still had to
    sell his lamps in villages where not only are new ideas are hard to introduce,
    but wages are so low that his lamp costs about 3-4 weeks pay for the average
    family. Again he had to listen to the people in these villages so he could see
    how he could get more people to buy his product. When the villagers explained
    that more people would buy the lamp if their neighbors bought it, Anish began
    employing local salesmen in each village and that has contributed to his great
    and ongoing success.

    The big takeaway I take from Anish is that listening is a
    process. Not only that, but it’s a choice and if one is committed to the
    practice of listening, anything is possible. There are many times during Anish’
    journey where he could’ve stopped listening, and either turned himself off or
    shut others out. While the entrepreneurial spirit is really a testament to the
    power of the individual human will, its important to know that nothing worth
    having is done completely alone. It’s especially hard to listen to others when
    you become more intelligent or more successful. That’s why knowing this lesson
    is important. I know that for me, and any organization that I choose to be
    apart of, different voices will be heard and considered. An organization simply
    can’t be effective if the communication isn’t.