Solar Energy Shines Bright in East Africa

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It’s 7PM in East Africa.  As the sun sets over rural fields and farming villages, thousands of homes, schools and small businesses are plunged into darkness. 589 million Africans live without access to reliable electricity, 40 million in Kenya alone. In its place the majority of Kenyans rely on paraffin lanterns to provide indoor lighting, a costly and highly dangerous substitute.

This summer I’ll be working with One Degree Solar (ODS), a technology company that manufactures and distributes household solar products to improve access to clean energy and connectivity in Africa. Recognizing that access to reliable energy drives productivity and improves healthcare, education, and commerce, ODS was created to meet the needs of low-income households and businesses that demand modern lighting, phone charging, entertainment, and technology. Conventional alternatives in the micro-solar market require specialized tools, training, and spare parts, making after-sales support difficult and expensive for both suppliers and customers. ODS products are purposefully designed to be easy to maintain and serviceable using locally sourced materials (e.g. standard motorbike battery), extending the useful lifespan of the product and therefore its impact.

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To achieve massive scale and marketing prominence in high-traffic areas, One Degree Solar recently partnered with The Coca Cola Company in Kenya, where it introduced BrightBox systems at 100 sales kiosks in May 2012 as part of an initial pilot. These microenterprises drastically reduced their energy spending, extended their operating hours, and increased revenues by an average of 15% – all while reducing their carbon footprint. I was honored to attend a recent Pan-Africa gathering at Coca Cola’s Africa headquarters in Nairobi, where the BrightBox was exhibited to country managers and regional bottlers.

Kiosk at Night with BB

Like many emerging industries, solar too has suffered from low quality entrants, damaging customer confidence. In an effort to rebuild consumer trust, Lighting Africa, a joint World Bank and IFC initiative, was born to independently promote quality assurance, supply distribution, and customer education.  In November 2012 the BrightBox passed rigorous quality control tests, affording it access to distribution partnership across Kenya. Lighting Africa is targeting expansion to Nigeria, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and CDR, creating new avenues for ODS to continue to grow outside of Kenya.

As demand begins to outpace supply, ODS faces its first ever stockout this month (yikes!), and I am reminded of the lessons in Ops 430. It’s exciting to be applying those lessons – along with pricing, promotion channels, working capital, shipping costs, currency devaluation – in a real world environment, with real bottom line consequences. Hopefully we’ll make the right choices as we look ahead to August!

https://www.facebook.com/onedegreesolar  |  http://onedegreesolar.com/

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Hi everyone! Just wanted to share the blog post I wrote today for the Growth Hub. Our application deadline for the Hub’s newest incubator program is approaching on Monday, so we’re making some final efforts via social media to really spread the word, get entrepreneurs excited, and make sure people finalize their apps in time! Feel free to read some of my thoughts about the start-ups I’ve interacted with thus far.

http://thegrowthhub.com/growthhubblog/after-all-young-entrepreneurs-need-to-start-somewhere/

At the start of the 4th week in Kenya…

Hamjambo, marafiki!  (Hello, my friends!)

The past couple of weeks in Kenya have been pretty incredible.  The Kellogg fellows have done a lot of trips out into the Kenyan countryside, including a visit to Karen, where we visited an elephant orphanage and giraffe park, as well as Lake Naivasha, where we did a pretty aggressive climb called Hell’s Gate and were out in the open with different wildlife.  This past weekend, we all took a trip over to Rwanda to experience a new country – one that I have been dying to visit for several years now.

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Rwanda was such an aesthetically beautiful place with tons of dormant volcanoes and hills that are now used for farming.  No wonder it’s called “The Land of a Thousand Hills”- I think we counted more than a thousand just in our weekend there!  That said, I experienced parts of the country, like the Genocide Memorial, with a very heavy heart, given the atrocities that took place in Rwanda even in very recent years.  The highlight of the weekend was the golden monkey tracking hike that we did at Volcanoes National Park that shares a border with both Uganda and the DRC.  So much fun, and felt so great to be active and outdoors – check out a few of our photos! 

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Work is going well.  I’m finally feeling acclimated and have my role carved out in a way where I know exactly what I need to be working on when I walk into the office at 7:55am each morning.  One major work stream is the establishment of Virtual City’s distribution channels – mostly in the form of strategic partnerships with large mobile money operators, banks, and global MNCs.  The second major work stream is around change management, and getting the Virtual City team of 85 people to adopt a stronger sales culture.  While I don’t think they’ll ever really be “salesy”, the starting point is a team of incredible engineers that are accustomed to creating beautiful UI – and letting it sit there.  So a “sales mentality” in this sense means adopting a stronger degree of comfort in demonstrating the solution’s functionality to potential clients, speaking through the value it will add to SMEs and understanding how to customize technical requirements based off the customer needs.  One part of that is creating the tools and sales management protocols to create an infrastructure where people feel comfortable embracing sales, so I am just beginning the process of interviewing potential new team members to help strengthen this change.

I am also starting to feel like I have real friends in Kenya outside of the fellow group, which has been nice, and has made the evenings something to look forward to as well.  Everyone has such an interesting story, and it makes for incredibly worthwhile dinner conversation over a random variety of cuisines – check out a few pictures below from a friend’s birthday dinner we held last week.  Nairobi really does attract a ton of different types of people, but most of them are interested in pursuing a career in the social enterprise or tech innovation scene long term.

We have a dinner planned with Kellogg alums in the area tomorrow evening, and we’ll be sure to check back in soon!