By Tere González García, UN Young Leader for the SDGs and Cofounder of Liter of Light Mexico.

If someone had told me about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) when I started my social entrepreneurship path at the age of 16, I would have probably thought it was part of a new science fiction saga. Back then, imagining 193 countries agreeing on something seemed so far removed. Defining and adopting 17 common goals for the people and planet was not something that my teenage mind would have conceived.

I was pursuing a communications career and co-founded an organization to prevent violence, crime, and addiction in vulnerable communities in Mexico. As you can imagine, speaking of fiction, I would have never guessed that I would end up working on anything related to solar energy.

Throughout my life, I have worked with people of all ages and backgrounds––addicts, convicts, migrants, gypsies, indigenous people, amongst other communities facing inequality around the world. We have worked together finding solutions to tackle different problems, but something that I noticed all these groups had in common was the lack of proper access to energy and, as a consequence, their opportunities were profoundly diminished.

Modern energy services are crucial to human well-being and to a country’s economic development, and yet 1.2 billion people around the world live without access to electricity. In some contexts this is due to the lack of infrastructure, whereas in others, the economic reality makes it impossible to afford. These conditions result in the use of dangerous alternatives such as candles or kerosene lamps to be able to properly see in the household space. Just picture for a moment conducting your daily tasks in complete darkness, even during the day. We wouldn’t even be able to communicate with each other through this blog post right now.

In addition to this problem, there is another alarming one: our world’s exponential plastic consumption. Around the world, we buy 1 million plastic bottles per minute, which take up to 400 years to decompose. Moreover, only 9 percent of the plastic we use every day is properly recycled. According to some estimates, by 2050, our oceans will carry more plastic mass than fish if we are to continue with the rate at which we are currently dumping plastic items, including bottles.

At first sight, these two problems—lack of electricity and plastic pollution—are not related, but at Liter of Light, we are contributing to solving both with a single solution: Repurposing plastic bottles to create affordable and sustainable lamps that work with solar power.

Liter of Light is a global open-source movement that started in the Philippines under the leadership of Illac Díaz and that empowers people through over 30 chapters around the world.

I had the privilege to start the movement in Spain in 2011 and helped to launch it in India in 2012. Finally, in 2013 I was able to share this simple and locally replicable solution with marginalized communities in my home country, Mexico. Up to this day, Liter of Light Mexico has directly impacted the lives of over 10,000 people, not only in my country but also in neighbor nations such as Guatemala, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Peru, and Puerto Rico.

Liter of Light’s solutions have deeply evolved throughout the years. What started as a light-source that worked only during the day in interior spaces is now a lamp that can be used at any time, day or night, whether it is indoors at home or outdoors to light up roads and public spaces.

The team at Liter of Light Mexico recently adapted the lamps to respond to natural disasters and emergency situations, such as the earthquake in Mexico, the flooding in Peru, and the hurricanes in the Caribbean. The newest lamp models also include a USB charger to power a mobile device.

The worldwide impact of Liter of Light wouldn’t be possible without alliances across the public and private sectors as well as with international organizations and local NGOs. We recognize the importance of Goal 17—Partnerships for the Goals and the opportunity that the interconnectedness of the SDGs brings to the table.

Through Liter of Light, I have witnessed the power of youth, and particularly young women like me, to achieve Goal 7—Affordable and Clean Energy while also having an impact on other goals such as Climate Action, Life Below Water, and Responsible Consumption and Production.

I am convinced that by taking small actions and developing simple solutions we can have extraordinary outcomes. A more equal world and a healthier planet don’t have to be part of a science fiction tale. We are already making the SDGs a reality and as we pick up the pace in the next 12 years, we must remember that our shared destiny depends on collective efforts on all fronts to ensure we truly leave no one behind.