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Heroes

Solar module prices have hit a new low. So Akon's trying to bring power to all Africans.

The Senegalese-American hip-hop star wants to solar (em)power Africans.

Since Akon's rise to fame, he hasn't hesitated to use his celebrity for the greater good.

Akon performs at a Peace One Day concert for International Peace Day in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo by Phil Moore/AFP/Getty Images.


In addition to participating in charitable events like the Peace One Day concert, he founded the Konfidence Foundation to help impoverished youth in West Africa and the U.S.

And he recently added another act of awesome to his repertoire:

Akon's working to bring electricity to 600 million sub-Saharan Africans in rural areas.

Yeah, that's no small feat, but he knows how important it is. Although Akon was born in Missouri, he spent many years growing up in Senegal, where his family lived without electricity. He told Gulf News:

"Not having electricity growing up and then going to the U.S. where I got used to having clean water and light and visiting my family in Africa only to see that not much has changed within a span of 20 years or so is really what inspired me to begin this initiative."

Through the Akon Lighting Africa initiative, Akon is bringing affordable solar power solutions to Africa. Solar module prices hit a record low last year, which means it's easier than ever to expand the use of solar energy in countries with limited funds. So with the help of a $1 billion credit line, the initiative pays for the upfront costs so that electicity providers in African countries can pay back the money over time to the initiative in affordable installments.

The initiative isn't just about power; it's about em-powering. (Yeah, I said it.)

I'm sorry! I couldn't resist. GIF via "The Office."

Access to electricity would obviously be a vast improvement on people's daily lives: Street lights would improve safety, home lights would allow children to do homework later, and the special skills needed for solar power equipment installation would create jobs.

But Akon doesn't just want to improve the day-to-day things; he wants to help Africans innovate with solar energy. That's why the initiative's work includes creating education opportunities for community members to understand the benefits of solar energy.

An example? They've partnered with Solektra International to create a solar academy for local entrepreneurs in Mali — the first of its kind on the African continent.

Akon believes that giving individual Africans access to power will help the continent as a whole.

Mali women make jars under a solar-powered mobile street light. Photo by Habibou Kouyate/AFP/Getty Images.

In an interview with ThinkProgress, Akon said electricity is the key to helping the continent catch up to developed nations. He believes that foreign aid can do more harm than good, so he wanted to use the initiative to invest directly in African individuals and businesses. While it's a for-profit venture, Akon shared in a live chat that proceeds go to African banks so the money can stay within the local economy.

So far, they're making great strides.

Photo by U.K. Department for International Development/Flickr.

In just a year, Akon's initiative is operating in 11 countries, including Senegal, Mali, and Sierra Leone.

According to The Wall Street Journal,Akon partially attributes the quick expansion to the fact that countries can see the benefits of solar power before committing to using it. Since the ALA initiative has the funds, they front the money to launch a free pilot program in rural areas. With a risk-free introduction to the benefits of solar energy, countries have been able to make a confident, informed decision to sign on.

And there's more to come: Just this week, the initiative presented in Parisduring the UN climate negotiations (COP21) to share the impact they're having.

As an American-born child with family in Africa, I know how big a deal this initiative is. While I'm fortunate enough to have family in Kenya who are among the 5% of Africans in sub-Saharan Africa with electricity (compared to 80% of the whole world), I've seen firsthand how many Kenyans living without it doesn't just limit their own lives; it affects the country as a whole.

I love that Akon is about spreading the power — literally and figuratively.

via FIRST

FIRST students compete in a robotics challenge.

True

Societies all over the world face an ever-growing list of complex issues that require informed solutions. Whether it’s addressing infectious diseases, the effects of climate change, supply chain issues or resource scarcity, the world has an immediate need for problem-solvers with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills.

Here in the United States, we’re experiencing a shortage of much-needed STEM workers, and forward-thinking organizations are stepping up to tap into America’s youth to fill the void. As the leading youth-serving nonprofit advancing STEM education, FIRST is an important player in this arena, and its mission is to inspire young people aged 4 to 18 to become technology leaders and innovators capable of addressing the world’s pressing needs.

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1991 blooper clip of Robin Williams and Elmo is a wholesome nugget of comedic genius

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Robin Williams and Elmo (Kevin Clash) bloopers.

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Williams has been a household name since what seems like the beginning of time, and before his death in 2014, he would make frequent appearances on "Sesame Street." The late actor played so many roles that if you were ask 10 different people what their favorite was, you’d likely get 10 different answers. But for the kids who spent their childhoods watching PBS, they got to see him being silly with his favorite monsters and a giant yellow canary. At least I think Big Bird is a canary.

When he stopped by "Sesame Street" for the special “Big Bird's Birthday or Let Me Eat Cake” in 1991, he was there to show Elmo all of the wonderful things you could do with a stick. Williams turns the stick into a hockey stick and a baton before losing his composure and walking off camera. The entire time, Elmo looks enthralled … if puppets can look enthralled. He’s definitely paying attention before slumping over at the realization that Williams goofed a line. But the actor comes back to continue the scene before Elmo slinks down inside his box after getting Williams’ name wrong, which causes his human co-star to take his stick and leave.

The little blooper reel is so cute and pure that it makes you feel good for a few minutes. For an additional boost of serotonin, check out this other (perfectly executed) clip about conflict that Williams did with the two-headed monster. He certainly had a way of engaging his audience, so it makes sense that even after all of these years, he's still greatly missed.

Marlon Brando on "The Dick Cavett Show" in 1973.

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Brando was a shoo-in for Best Actor at the 1973 Academy Awards, so the actor decided to use the opportunity to make an important point about Native American representation in Hollywood.

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The marital bed is a symbol of the intimacy shared between people who’ve decided to be together 'til death they do part. When couples sleep together it’s an expression of their closeness and how they care for one another when they are most vulnerable.

However, for some couples, the marital bed can be a warzone. Throughout the night couples can endure snoring, sleep apnea, the ongoing battle for sheets or circadian rhythms that never seem to sync. If one person likes to fall asleep with the TV on while the other reads a book, it can be impossible to come to an agreement on a good-night routine.

Last week on TODAY, host Carson Daly reminded viewers that he and his wife Siri, a TODAY Food contributor, had a sleep divorce while she was pregnant with their fourth child.

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