Barefoot Power and Solar Entrepreneurs in Uganda

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HomeBarefoot Power and Solar Entrepreneurs in Uganda

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Jul 02, 2013


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Barefoot Power and Solar Entrepreneurs in Uganda

In Uganda, 5 million households (85% of the population) lack access to electricity. It has become evident that access to reliable electricity plays a major role in development. One of the major problems for developing countries that lack electricity is expensive, unhealthy, unsafe lighting alternatives. Most Ugandans use kerosene lanterns or candles for lighting which produce poor quality light, have unsafe open flames that cause fires, and with kerosene price fluctuations, they are not affordable.
An average Ugandan household spends between USD 4 and 10 per month on kerosene for lighting and between USD 1 and 2 per month on phone charging. Redirecting current kerosene/paraffin expenditures to modern alternatives like the BASE Technologies Firefly™ and PowaPack solar systems will have positive development effects resulting in:
- Healthier homes due to lack of toxic fumes
- Safer homes due to minimized fire hazard
- Higher income for small businesses
- Improved education Reduced energy spending
The Firefly™ lighting products can be purchased from USD 15, resulting in a payback of less than 4 months. One of the challenges is that people are still not able to raise the initial cost to purchase. This is where microfinance comes in. Microfinance enables people who can see the benefits of solar and want to buy, to pay in instalments, making it easier on their finances. BASE has partnered with various microfinance institutions and implemented different models to make Firefly solar solutions accessible.
The BRAC Uganda and BASE Technologies Partnership:
BRAC Uganda began operations in 2006 and provides critical services in microfinance, agriculture, poultry and livestock, health, and education, to the poor. The BRAC Uganda Essential Health Care Programme (EHC) is a community health care program improving health conditions by increasing access to health services in communities where BRAC has established microfinance groups. One member of a BRAC borrowing group is selected as a Community Health Volunteers, and is trained to meet the needs of the community. Area Health Officers (AHO) manage and supervise each branch to ensure the smooth running of the health program.
In September 2009, BRAC and BASE Technologies joined into a partnership agreement to distribute FireflyTM solar products through BRAC Community Health Volunteers (CHV). After introducing the Firefly solar lamp to the Area Health Officers, BASE trained over 500 CHVs to sell the lamps. Existing relationships with communities and members of saving and loan groups, and dedication by the CHVs and Area Health Officers, has resulted in the impact to over 700 families. These families have access to safe, healthy, affordable light, and are saving more.
Gloria Ingabire, impacts her community and benefits with Firefly:
In Mbarara, Gloria Ingabire is the Area Health Officer (AHO) who manages 7 branches for BRAC Uganda. In 2009, Gloria received training on the use and benefits of using the FireflyTM lamps and she immediately bought one lamp for personal use. Shortly thereafter, she gifted her Firefly lamp to her grandmother. Gloria use to purchase 5 litres of kerosene every two months for her grandmother. “Since I gave her the lamp, my grandmother has not once called me to request for paraffin. Instead she called to ask whether she could purchase a second lamp.” On average a litre of paraffin cost UGS 1700/= ($.80). This plus transport cost meant that Gloria’s grandmother was paying over UGS 7000/= per month for lighting. With the purchase of the Firefly, she was able to immediately have safe, healthy light and start saving.
Given this experience, Gloria was determined to introduce the Firefly lamp at all her branches, tasking her management team to convene meetings with their CHVs. She taught over 100 CHVs in her region, about the benefits and how to use the Firefly lamp. The CHVs started talking among their community, about the health and economic benefits of the Firefly product.
Mother and business owner keeps her children safe and generates additional income:
Ms. Claire Kenganzi of Ishaka, Bushenyi district, a CHV and a single mother and proprietor of a local womens hair salon purchased a Firefly with the intention of giving it to her son who was preparing for his final school examinations. She realized that she was spending UGS 4200/= ($2.00) per week on candles for her household. According to Ms. Claire “This was a very small expenditure for me since I only got to spend UGS 600/= daily. But after Gloria taught us about the Firefly solar lamp, I realised that I was practically ‘burning’ UGS 16,800/= monthly.” What’s more she continued, “I had never realised the health risk I was exposing my family to by using the candle and all its black fumes.”
Claire has purchased a second Firefly solar lamp to use at her salon when power is not available. “The lamp gives perfect light for me to complete my customers’ hair plaiting jobs and I do not have to worry about burning them. Something I used to worry about when I used candles before I bought this Firefly.” Conveniently, she charges her lamp in the sun every day at her workplace, safe from theft. Claire says that she is blessed to know about the Firefly solar lamp because her son needs more scholastic materials, he reads more, and the Firefly lamps helps her save to afford the materials and improve his academics. But the biggest blessing of all according to Claire? “My salon customers see the benefits of the Firefly solar lamps firsthand and I get to sell to them right from my salon, which has really boosted my earnings.”
When the Firefly lamps were first introduced to Gloria, the CHVs in her region quickly purchased the first lamps. Subsequently, BRAC CHVs have distributed the Firefly lamps in the Mbarara Region impacting over 120 households or over 600 people in just about two months.
“The lamp gives perfect light for me to complete my customers’ hair plaiting jobs and I do not have to worry about burning them. Something I used to worry about when I used to use candles before I bought this Firefly.” - Claire
“...But after Gloria taught us about the Firefly solar lamp, I realised that I was practically ‘burning’ UGS 16,800/=...” - Claire
BASE Technologies is a Ugandan social enterprise focused on distributing Barefoot Power Firefly™ solar lighting systems to people at the base of the global economic pyramid. Through a specialized “business in a bag” training program, dedicated entrepreneurs develop micro-franchises enabling them to make a living distributing safe, affordable, healthy alternatives to kerosene and candles. BASE Technologies also partners with solar dealers, non-governmental organizations, community organizations and micro-finance institutions that provide outlets for product sales, awareness-building activities, innovative financial support systems and after sales warranty service.
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