Solar Lights Driving Clean Tech Enterprise in Rural Kenya

The war on climate change is not one that can be won in a boardroom or conference hall. It is a war that has to be taken to the frontlines and intertwined into the lives of the men, women and children who currently rely on burning dangerous and polluting fossil fuels for their most basic needs. For many of those living in regions most affected by the impacts of climate change, it is a war that starts with light.

As Pope Francis recently highlighted, tackling climate change cannot be done without simultaneously tackling poverty. In the 21st century, over half a billion people live without electricity in Africa, many of whom have no alternative but to light toxic kerosene in their home at night in order to study, work or spend time with their family. SunnyMoney has joined the fight against energy poverty by finding ways to ensure that high quality and affordable solar lights are available in rural Africa, setting these regions on a pathway to low-carbon development. To date, there are over 10 million people across the continent benefiting from SunnyMoney solar lights. People that no longer have to inhale toxic fumes, purchase expensive kerosene or risk potentially fatal burns.

Joe Nyeru, SunnyMoney talking to parents at Masimba school. Credit: SolarAid.

Joe Nyeru, SunnyMoney talking to parents at Masimba school. Credit: SolarAid.

How we reach rural communities with life-changing light

In Kenya we achieve last mile distribution of solar lights into remote rural areas – which have little transportation and communications infrastructure – by first engaging education authorities at a national level and then by working with head teachers. The head teachers educate students, their parents and the community at large on the dangers of kerosene use for lighting and the benefits of switching to clean, bright and safe solar lights. SunnyMoney’s school campaigns generate awareness and interest in solar lights which in turn creates entrepreneurial opportunities that kick-start a solar light market in the region. In order to develop and sustain a solar market in rural Kenya, SunnyMoney recruits and trains locally based sales agents. Agents come from all walks of life and are categorized as either individuals, shop owners or community based nongovernmental organizations.

Headmaster of Kaparuso primary school showing solar lights to parents, Longisa, Bomet district, Kenya. Credit: Corrie Wingate

Headmaster of Kaparuso primary school showing solar lights to parents, Longisa, Bomet district, Kenya. Credit: Corrie Wingate

Once SunnyMoney has completed a school campaign in a particular region, some of the participating head teachers choose to become agents. As highly respected and trusted members of the community the transition to agent is often a smooth one for the head teachers, who benefit from the additional income from selling solar lights. “I identify people who can buy the solar lights by talking to [other] teachers, talking to my friends from rural areas where I know there is no electricity. I also talk about it whenever I am invited for a fundraising in churches,” says Fred Cheserek, a SunnyMoney teacher agent from Eldoret. Having localised sales agent’s safe guards SunnyMoney’s continued presence in the region and ensures easy access to clean, bright affordable solar lights for those living in rural communities.

Why local entrepreneurs are choosing solar lights

Research conducted by SunnyMoney lists helping people without access to light as a key motivating factor for individuals to become agents. This is followed by the financial savings from owning a solar light and the perception in the market that SunnyMoney lights are durable and of good quality. “I come from a rural area and I see some of the people who work for me struggling so much financially and more so buying requirements like kerosene. This motivated me to be an agent,” said Mr. Cheserek.

The sense of social responsibility is one shared by many SunnyMoney agents and sentiments like the one from Mr. Cheserek are commonplace. For business owners, ensuring that there is demand for solar lights is key and SunnyMoney is constantly ensuring that their activities drive demand by increasing awareness of the benefits of solar lights. “People who are my customers used to ask for solar lights. By then I did not have them and that’s the reason I started storing them,” said Mr Yego, a shop owner from Bomet in Kenya. As an added incentive, SunnyMoney delivers solar lights for free* to agents across the country.  We also support our agents with training, marketing support and by directing sales enquiries to them.

Gideon Langat delivering solar lights to rural house, Bomet county, Kenya. Credit: Corrie Wingate.

Gideon Langat delivering solar lights to rural house, Bomet county, Kenya. Credit: Corrie Wingate.

Agents are taken through a course on the various models of solar lights in SunnyMoney’s range; understanding each products specifications, warranty, maintenance and care. They are also taught basic troubleshooting techniques in order to differentiate between manufacturer and user faults. In addition to product training SunnyMoney invests in marketing support for its agents in the form of advertising campaigns, fliers and brochures. Solomen Serem an independent SunnyMoney agent says “once in a week I will employ two men to take the solar lanterns to the markets. They do outdoor advertising. They do a lot of demos, I also put the lights on Olx [online based selling platform], that is a local online shop that sell everything”.

Solar lights: tacking poverty and climate change

Solomon and other SunnyMoney agents on the front line of the carbon war, fighting daily to bring clean, bright light to those living in their communities. Lights improve lives literally and financially. And they enable millions living in areas most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change  to lead the way towards a brighter future.

*minimum order of KES 15,000 required for free delivery.

Linda profileLinda Wamune is a key team player for SunnyMoney sales and growth, Linda has forged operations in Kenya for the past five years, contributing significantly to the social enterprise’s becoming the largest seller and distributor of solar lights in Africa and opening up the market in Kenya. Her expertise includes a decade’s worth of proven strategy and idea development, leadership and communication, team building and project/supply chain management, as well as innovation in sales and marketing.

As an authority on solar rural distribution Linda has been invited to global forums such as the 2014 Climate Summit at the UN Headquarters in New York. She represented SolarAid and SunnyMoney as part of the judging panel for the HULT Prize from the HULT Business School, a Clinton Global Initiative and also spoke during the launch of the International Year of Light in Paris, France where her audience included, industry leaders, Heads of State and Nobel laureates.

Linda is passionate about making a real difference in people’s lives and says that it is a privilege applying her managerial skills and expertise to the success of renewable energy throughout Africa.  She holds an Executive M.B.A. and a Bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering.

SunnyMoney is a social enterprise wholly owned by the international, UK based charity, SolarAid. Its Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) is the eradication of the kerosene lamp for lighting in Africa by the end of the decade.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s