Women Entrepreneurs bring solar products to the ‘last mile’ in Kenya

When Rispa Onyong’e’s neighbor’s house burned down in a horrific kerosene lamp accident, Onyong’e knew that she had to quickly find an alternative lighting solution for her and her family. Married with one child, this rice farmer living in a small village in Kenya faced the same challenges as her neighbors with no access to the electricity grid; they relied on dangerous and expensive kerosene-based lighting products. When kerosene – or funds to buy it – was in short supply, her family endured total darkness after nightfall.

In her search for an alternative, Onyong’e travelled 25 kilometers to the nearest major town where she found a shop stocking solar products. She purchased one of the products that meets Lighting Global Quality Standards, and soon, with her home constantly well-lit, she was the talk of her village as her neighbors admired this new source of lighting that could also charge her mobile phone. And they wanted to know how they could get one, too.

Shining a light on business opportunities

Recognizing the potential of women like Onyong’e to bring solar products to “last-mile” consumers such as her neighbors, Lighting Africa/Kenya launched a program to train local female entrepreneurs in the business skills they need to start or grow their own microenterprise. Thanks to that training, Onyong’e was among the first in her village to sell solar products. The training, run by Lighting Africa/Kenya in collaboration with local civil society organization Practical Action, aims to engage women in the solar value chain as entrepreneurs and consumers.

Onyong’e launched her microbusiness using PAYG (Pay-As-You-Go,) a mobile-money platform that lets consumers pay for the products in small installments—making the product affordable to all income groups. PAYG allowed Onyong’e to offer the products for usage to neighbors in her village without capital.

After the training from Lighting Africa/Kenya, Onyong’e added additional quality-verified solar products to her stock and her business grew quickly. She soon enlisted her husband’s help, who uses his motorbike to deliver SHSs on her behalf. She sells an average of 13 solar units per month, for a total of around $3,250. Her sales margin is at an average of 8.7 percent, equating to about $280.

Onyong’e now employs three people and has saved enough money to buy a piece of land to build a house and to send their son to private school. With the additional solar product brands, her monthly income is expected to keep growing.

Off-grid on target for progress

Close to 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa—about two-thirds of the population—live without access to grid electricity. This lack of modern energy services severely limits educational and economic opportunities and negatively impacts quality of life. Those without electricity often use polluting and expensive lighting sources that can cause serious problems, as Onyong’e saw from her neighbor’s fire.

That’s why Lighting Africa brings modern, high-quality lighting and energy products that offer a sustainable alternative to the off-grid population. As the program has evolved, its trainings have become an important offering to beneficiaries in search of economic opportunities, such as Onyong’e, who now offers lighting to her village.

“I learned sales and marketing techniques, how to keep records, and also learned the difference between products meeting Lighting Global Quality Standards and those of unknown quality,” she says. “I now know how to present myself and the more money I get, the harder I work.”