By Nimo Nyambura

GIVEWATTS EA Ltd started out in 2010 as a non-governmental organisation, initially following the ‘aid’ format that had come to characterize most NGOs in Africa. However, four years down the line the organisation realized it would have more impact as a Social Enterprise, hence changing its approach from ‘giving aid’ to putting the power in the communities they seek to empower through innovative financing. GIVEWATTS mission is to provide ‘Clean Energy for Growth’, to date it has distributed over 25,000 solar lamps and 3,400 clean cookstoves.

See below Q & A Interview with Jesper Hornberg, Co-founder​, GIVEWATTS .

Most non-profit organisations ‘give aid’ it’s faster and to the point, what informed GIVEWATTS’s approach in Kenya & Tanzania?

GIVEWATTS aims to remain in the market and the communities that we work in for the long run. An aid model does not encourage longevity in the market as it offers a temporary solution where products are often only given once or twice. With our current model, once we are present in a community, we can sustain ourselves regardless of funding received. The funds present in a region become cyclical; once payment for products is completed, the funds are reinvested back into the community in the form of additional products.

Not giving ‘aid’ how effective has this approach been in increasing access to safe & clean energy products especially in areas where poverty levels are high?

GIVEWATTS was first set up as an NGO in Kenya in the year 2010. Later, in 2014, we registered as a Social Enterprise dubbed GIVEWATTS East Africa Ltd. From experience, we found that aid creates dependency and proves to be a disservice to the consumer. When consumers purchase products for themselves, they purchase the product that best suits their needs and ability to pay. As a result, they tend to take ownership of the product and take better care of it.

GIVEWATTS offers a wide range of products which differ in price; we also offer a 3 to 4 month repayment period, where customers pay for their product in installments. The payment per month or per day is not significantly higher than the cash that families were already using on purchasing cooking and lighting energy.

Your base is mainly in the rural parts of Kenya and Tanzania, what level of needs do you see in these places in relation to Clean Energy?

Rural areas in both Kenya and Tanzania have a high level of need for affordable and efficient energy solutions; rural households in both countries currently depend on kerosene for lighting and firewood or charcoal for cooking. These sources are expensive either because of the cost of purchase or the time spent collecting it. For example, families must buy kerosene or charcoal daily which is expensive, or travel long distances to collect firewood which is time consuming. In most of the rural areas we work in, families are not yet connected to the national power grid so all energy needs – lighting and cooking – must be bought or collected.

Tanzania and Kenya have similar needs when it comes to energy and the energy usage of rural families in both countries is quite similar. However, we have found that Tanzania has a slightly higher need for energy solutions than Kenya because the energy sector is Kenya is slightly more developed than that in Tanzania.

What kind of marketing model do you employ to reach rural communities in Kenya and Tanzania with clean & safe energy products?

GIVEWATTS has sales agents present in all the areas we work in; these agents are our active sales force. GIVEWATTS was founded to give access to clean light/energy to schoolchildren in rural Africa. Our sales, marketing and distribution is centered around schools and our regional agents regularly visit schools to present and sell our products to the teachers and parents. Once numerous schools in an area have been visited, word of our products spreads organically via word of mouth. Word of mouth is a very useful marketing tool in rural areas.

Additionally, GIVEWATTS also has a bulk SMS platform that we use to contact customers who’ve bought our products in the past. We use this platform to inform customers of new products available.

 Your target is low cadre communities; what collateral to do you seek from individuals in these areas for them to access cookstoves or solar products?

Majority of our products are sold through schools by an agent in the region. Thus, the school and the agent work as our key security. If a customer does not repay, it is easy to trace them via the school and regional agent. Additionally, GIVEWATTS collects data from all its customers, including contact and location information. This data is useful not only for marketing and customer care but also acts as collateral.

GIVEWATTS sources for funding to help bring clean & safe energy to people in developing nations. How successful has this been especially in helping you meet your short-term or long-term objectives?

With funding, GIVEWATTS has been very successful in meeting its short term needs to distribute energy in rural areas. With the funding we have received so far, we have been able to reach 30 regional counties in Kenya and 5 provinces in Tanzania. Additionally, we have been able to sustain the operation of the company, even while selling our products on an installment payment model where products are paid off in 3 to 4 months.

However, to reach our long term objectives to scale GIVEWATTS, expand to other countries and reach the poorest populations, we will need to secure higher levels of funding. With more funding, we will be able to extend our product repayment period and thus allow poorer populations to afford them.

What kind of partner has BURN being in your mission to bring clean energy cookstoves to these communities?

BURN had been an extremely useful partner in our mission to provide cleaner cooking options. BURN understands the key challenge of operating in rural African communities – distribution; they deliver goods directly to our agents across the country. This significantly reduces our distribution and logistics costs. Furthermore, they provide support to the marketing function by providing marketing materials such as t-shirts, bags and fliers; they also conduct roadshows in rural towns. BURN has also been a valuable partner in helping us secure funding. For instance, they linked GIVEWATTS to KIVA loans which allowed us to extend our credit period with BURN; the KIVA loan is paid out to us in terms of stoves and not cash.

There are quite a number of other actors selling improved cookstoves in the Kenyan & Tanzanian market, what led you to pick BURN’s Jikokoa?

First, the jikokoa is a popular product in the market which sells itself; customers know the good quality and price of the product and regularly ask for it. Jikokoa is one of the longer standing products in the market and is therefore a tried and tested product. Second, BURN is very effective at sorting out product and warranty issues; they have warranty stations spread all around the countries they work in. This is contrary to other products in the market where faulty products must be collected from the rural region, sent back to a head office, fixed and then returned to the rural customer. This is a process that is both expensive to the supplier and time consuming for the final user.

What has been the impact of BURN’s Jikokoa to families in these communities? 

BURN’S Jikokoa has been extremely beneficial to families living in rural Kenya and Tanzania. Prior to purchasing the jikokoa, families either depended on charcoal which is expensive and unhealthy or on collected firewood. Firewood is time consuming to collect and detrimental to the environment. Families have saved money and time.

What does the second quarter of 2017 hold for GIVEWATTS EA mission of bringing clean and safe energy?

In 2017, GIVEWATTS would like to scale its operations across Kenya and Tanzania; we would particularly like to reach new areas in Kenya such as Turkana, Marsabit and Tana River that are not regularly serviced by energy operators. Since inception, GIVEWATTS has reached over 148,360 people across Kenya and Tanzania. In 2017, we want to reach even more families who lack energy access.

Watch GIVEWATTS impact video on a family from Mwanza in Tanzania here – 

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