Can Strong Partnerships Circumvent the Challenges of Bringing Clean Energy to Sub-Saharan African Households?

By Davina Ngei

We are witnessing rapid growth in the number of individuals and businesses stepping up to the challenge of energy poverty and climate change.

Unfortunately, more often than not, these initiatives encounter roadblocks that threaten to halt their progress and stifle their impact.

wPOWER learned these challenges first-hand during a visit to the offices of Pamoja Life, Barefoot Power, and the Green Belt Movement on Wednesday, May 3rd, during an event called ‘A Day with Wanjira Mathai’ which was put together by the Safaricom Foundation and attended by their team leader Ben Mungai.

Pamoja Life is a for-profit social enterprise with a mission is to provide ‘quality cooking and lighting solutions for every home’. They work with communities to finance and deliver an array of affordable and high quality clean cookstoves (charcoal and wood) and solar systems.

Barefoot Power is a global for profit enterprise that designs, manufactures and distributes solar lighting systems and small home appliances to families and businesses in Africa, India, Asia, Papua New Guinea and the Americas.

The Green Belt Movement (GBM) is a Nairobi-based NGO founded in 1977 by Nobel Laureate Professor Wangari Maathai, that aims to promote community empowerment, environmental conservation, and improved livelihoods, as well as mitigate climate change.

The Safaricom Foundation is a corporate foundation established by Safaricom Limited in 2003 that has invested over Ksh 1.8 billion (approximately US$ 21 million) in various fields, including education, health, economic empowerment, and the environment, in addition to responding to disasters and humanitarian emergencies.

The Pamoja Life team shared their challenges around two main areas, mainly identifying the sales’ structure network needed to scale up their enterprise, and the risk accrued with financing clean energy technologies, given the fact that a majority of their target market is unable to make a one-off upfront payment.

John Odida from Pamoja Life takes Wanjira through the make and use of one of their clean cookstove products

This talk of consumer affordability was echoed at Barefoot Power, with discussions revolving around the importance of affordable financing options as a way of ensuring greater access to clean energy technology. The Barefoot Power team also touched upon their need for working capital as a result of the long turn-around cycles between manufacturing and distribution.

Jackson Machuhi (Barefoot Power)  explaining the different solar appliances sold by Barefoot Power

There was also great emphasis on the central role of women in the value chain, with the GBM team pointing out how women think of long-term sustainability, making them vital in the process of adapting strategies to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Summing up, these crucial partner engagement sessions revealed the need for securing vital partnerships (finance, logistics, strategists) to push forward the clean energy initiative and expand accessibility in markets throughout  East Africa.

“It was a delightful day visiting Pamoja Life and Barefoot Power. Seeing how both organizations are transforming lives was wonderful but I was most inspired by how both organizations have elevated the offerings to facilitating accessibility to these technologies. Pamoja Life extends credit to women and women’s groups and Barefoot Power offers a pay-as-you-go option. Making the technologies available is one thing, but making them accessible is where success really lies.”

Wanjira Mathai, Senior Partnership Advisor, Advocacy and Strategy, wPOWER and Chair of the Board, GBM

With 1.3 billion people globally lacking access to energy and millions suffering from the health and environmental impacts of unsafe and inefficient sources of energy, the task of bringing clean and affordable energy to affected communities is monumental.

It is with building such partnerships across the clean energy value chain that clean energy models can be scaled up to ensure that all households have access to the clean sources of energy that they so desperately need.

“I learnt about the challenges of the partners in their quest of introducing the use of clean energy to the society; the lack of finances, awareness and not so clear legislation and support about it from the government side. This knowledge is particularly important as it will be a starting point of how to address the challenges.”

– Ben Mungai, Team Leader, Safaricom