Celebrity charities are as common as the grass that grows in the park these days, and one can questions whether or not they all make real change. Along that line, if you haven’t noticed, Akon has been off the radar for some time now. That is because the Senegalese-American recording artist has hung up his recording chops and dedicated his time to building a charity that really does make a difference. Akon, along with community leader Thione Niang and entrepreneur Samba Bathily, created “Akon Lighting Africa” with the seemingly impossible goal of bringing affordable and safe electricity to around 600 million people in rural Africa.

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Electricity is something we take for granted unless our smart phones tell us we need it. But in rural Africa, more than 600 million people go with out adequate electricity. The economic effects of that are stifling to say the least. Pretty much all economic activities, as well as educational activities stop at night due to the lack of adequate lighting. Adults can’t produce goods in the dark and students are forced to study by candle light. Even more frightening, more than 3.5 million people die each year from harmful pollutants or house fires caused by toxic solid fuels.

“Electricity is more than light. This is a true change in our daily life,” A mother, Yelimané, village, Mali

Akon Lighting Africa has a goal of bringing economic independence and safety to these regions by setting up solar energy solutions. From solar powered street lamps, to personal domestic systems to help with household duties and student learning, and even an institute to train workers to install and maintain the new solar powered systems in place. So far, the initiative is active in 14 countries, with the goal of reaching 15 countries and 480 communities.

The whole initiative is funded through a public and private partnership model that includes companies like SOLEKTRA INT, SUMEC and NARI as well as Akon and the co-founders. The overwhelming success the foundation has had gives us a road map to help solve many complex problems facing the impoverished world. Akon is a true leader in the philanthropic world and a whole lot more than “that guy who sang Sexy Bitch.”

Are there other artist charities you think are making a difference?