CSUN Alumnus Shawn Hakim Is a Beacon of Hope for the Dominican Republic

  • CSUN alumnus Shawn Hakim has helped light up villages in the Dominican Republic.

  • Hakim has launched successful campaigns to bring solar lights to areas covered in darkness.

California State University, Northridge alumnus Shawn Hakim ’10 (Finance, Real Estate) found an article about solar lanterns at just the right time. He was in a place in his life where he wanted to flex his entrepreneurial muscles and, at the same time, impact other people’s lives.

He was online, reading about the difference solar lanterns could make in the lives of people in impoverished nations. Hakim thought about getting involved with the cause. Realizing he didn’t have the contacts, his bright idea dimmed.

A few weeks later, it was rekindled on a flight. Hakim was flying to Costa Rica for a vacation, with a stop in Panama along the way. Seated next to him on the flight was Jacqueline Gallardo, bound for her home country of the Dominican Republic with a stop in Panama. Gallardo explained to Hakim how millions of Dominicans are affected daily by a lack of dependable electricity, and how their methods of creating light for daily work and education have become dangerous.

“On the flight, we instantly clicked,” Hakim, 28, said. “We were talking about life and how we were both at a point where we wanted to make an impact. She was telling me about the Dominican Republic and how light is such an issue.”

Together, Hakim and Gallardo founded Esenciales J.S. SRL — a social enterprise with the purpose of providing solar lanterns to the Dominican Republic, where substandard electricity has been a significant issue in the country for decades. For the past two and a half years, Hakim and Gallardo have lit up three villages in the Dominican Republic. They also have received endorsements from Dominican-born Major League Baseball superstar Albert Pujols and actress Zoe Saldana, whose father is from the country.

Their latest venture is the Dominican Light Project — a crowdfunding effort to raise money to illuminate the entire Dominican Republic.

“There are rolling blackouts on a nightly basis in a majority of the country, and they last anywhere from four to 12 hours,” Hakim said. “It’s a huge issue. It has clear social components and economic components.”

Hakim said he found a perfect example of both when he visited the country for the first time in 2014. He saw a boy walking down a dark, bumpy path holding a makeshift torch fashioned from moldy bread that had been dipped in kerosene and lit on fire. The boy told Hakim he was on his way to school. After school, the boy planned to shine shoes and wash cars to earn some money for his family. After a long day, the boy would return home to darkness, which diminished his ability to study. On top of that, kerosene is toxic if inhaled.

As Hakim learned, the boy’s story was not unique — many people in the same village were using kerosene to provide light.

Stories like this inspired Hakim and Gallardo to take action. Esenciales J.S. SRL raised money to provide the village with solar lanterns and change the lives of its people.

The cost of purchasing the lanterns, shipping, local administration and transportation to get the lantern to a family in need and fundraising totals to $25 a lantern.

When placed in sunlight for four to six hours, the lanterns absorb enough solar energy to light up a 150-square-foot area for six to 12 hours, he said.

Also in 2014, Esenciales lit up a small village in the city Gaspar Hernandez in the Dominican Republic. Earlier this year, partnering with the Pujols Family Foundation, the homes of 2,000 people in the city Batey Aléman were lit up.

Hakim said his experiences at CSUN have helped him do all this work. As the director of finance for Associated Students and a student in the Business Honors program he learned about leadership and drive.

“The combination of having the multiple degrees and having the leadership roles really helped prepare me for entrepreneurial and passion projects,” Hakim said. “CSUN definitely helped build the skills I’m utilizing now.”

Hakim does have a regular job: He’s a financial consultant. The work he’s doing in the Dominican Republic is his passion project — and he has high hopes.

“If I was able to light up this entire country, it’s a huge, huge thing,” he said. “After that, I’ll figure out the next step.”

For more information, visit: https://www.indiegogo.com/at/dominicanlightproject.

On social media at https://www.facebook.com/dominicanlightproject and https://twitter.com/dominicanlightp.