It represents a huge barrier to progress towards the UN’s Global Goals, which work together to end extreme poverty by 2030.
It can leave children without enough light to be able to do their homework; people without access to computers or the internet in an increasingly digitised world; and business owners unable to grow their businesses when they have to shut down their enterprise after dark.
In fact, not having access to electricity has impacts on a broad range of development indicators, including health, education, food security, gender equality, livelihoods, and poverty reduction.
This is why Energise Africa is working to help make solar power more accessible for families across sub-Saharan Africa, through an innovative ethical investment platform that enables members of the public to invest their money in projects that help bring solar power to African families.
It’s part of a wider financial trend known as impact investing, which basically encourages people to invest their money in initiatives that work to make a positive difference in the world.
Read on to find out more about impact investing below (and you can find our beginner’s guide to impact investing here). But first, here are four women whose lives have already been changed by solar businesses funded via the Energise Africa platform.
1. Patience Mutesi
One of the projects supported by investments made through the Energise Africa platform is Solar Now, which installs solar systems in Uganda.
Patience Mutesi is just one of their customers. Mutesi lives in Nabyewanga, where she also owns a shop that has been thriving since she received access to solar power.
“I didn’t have any power before getting solar,” she says, in an interview with Solar Now. “It has been six months I have been using solar. The benefits I have got from this solar is that my work is moving much more smoothly than when I hadn’t got it.”
What’s more, she’s also been able to expand her range of products — for example, selling cold drinks and fresh food, now she has the power to keep them cool.
“In the past, before I had solar, my business was moderate,” she said. “I have never had any problem with this solar, because I am not under tension that if I don’t pay it they will disconnect me. This has never happened to me.”
“So I pay for it at my convenience, without distracting the smooth running of my business,” she said.
2. Juliette Nabukenya
Juliette Nabukenya works in a children’s home called the Home of Hope and Dreams in Mpigi, a town in central Uganda.
She’s worked in the home for eight years, since it first started, and the home now provides a place to live for 25 children.
“Now as the children come from their families, most of them are very needy, abandoned, mistreated, abused by their parents,” she says. “So the Home of Hope and Dreams it works as a shelter for them. We give them accommodation, food, and they go to school here.”
The children’s home first got solar three years ago and, according to Nabukenya, it has had a huge impact on the lives of the children at the home.
“In Uganda, most of the electricity goes off too much, and we have a lot of children, young ones,” she continues. “So we used to stay in darkness, but since we got solar our lives have improved.”
“We use solar in the home, we use it for the lights, we watch TV using the solar, we wash using the solar, and we have fridges which are working on the solar,” she adds.
What’s more, solar energy also helps the children in the home access medicine and health care.
“Before, when the power was going off, students' medicine could get spoiled. But now since we have solar it is on 24/7,” says Nabukenya. “We have ... an underground well, but we have a pump inside, which is also using solar.”
Having solar energy also means the children’s home is able to save money on its electricity. Before, according to Nabukenya, the home had to pay about 200,000 Ugandan shillings (about £40) per week on electricity — but now that has halved.
Florence is an agent for a company called Azuri Technologies, which works to help bring pay-as-you-go solar technology to families in sub-Saharan Africa.
According to the World Bank, pay-as-you-go purchase models are becoming increasingly popular in many markets, expanding particularly rapidly across Africa.
One of the best things about the system is that it means customers can pay in instalments, making it more accessible.
As well as the families they reach with solar power, Azuri also provides employment for its agents too, like Florence.
“In Azuri, there is good money,” she says, in an interview with Azuri. “If you are business minded you don’t need capital to start a business. You are given the product, then you go selling.”
“Through Azuri, I’m able to pay my bills,” she continued. “I’m able to pay the school fees for my kids. And everything that I am doing that involves finance is Azuri, in my house. I am proud to be associated with a product whose vision is life-changing technology in every home.”
4. Joyce Lengure
Joyce Lengure is a businesswoman living in a village called Merille, in Kenya.
She remembers the first time that a TV was installed in her home, which also doubles up as the site of her shop.
“Everyone in my village Merille came to see that,” she says. “I had a TV and also four bright lights. Before I started using Azuri solar lights, I closed my business very early and would go home.”
“Now I enjoy the light provided by Azuri because I can continue selling until there are no more customers,” she adds. “And also, very early in the morning I use the lights when I open my shop to sell to those who need milk and sugar in the morning.”
She says: “Azuri has brought us a lot of benefits.”
Across Africa, projects financed through Energise Africa have so far empowered over 330,000 more people to replace kerosene in their homes with clean solar electricity.
As well as the positive impact this is having on people’s lives, investors are also actively contributing to the fight against climate change — by enabling solar power to mitigate 73,000 tonnes of CO2 every year, according to Energise Africa.
If you’re inspired by these women’s stories, you can use the Energise Africa platform to do you own impact investing (although please take note that, as this is an investment, there is an inherent risk and returns aren’t guaranteed.)
This is how it works in four steps, and if we’ve got you hooked, you can also find out a lot more about impact investment — and how it can help solve some of the biggest global challenges — in our beginner’s guide.
If you are interested in impact investing, the guide will help in getting you up to speed with the basic knowledge and terms you’ll need to get started.
1. Pick Your Investment Project
There are lots of solar projects featured on the Energise Africa platform that you can have a look through and decide where to invest your money.
Energise Africa has a few suggestions for things to think about when you’re picking your project:
- The return you expect to receive
- The time taken for your money to be repaid
- The risk of investing
According to the platform, all the businesses featured have been carefully selected. Energise Africa carries out a full credit risk assessment with the support of INRISC, which provides tools to measure and monitor credit risk.
Some of the projects are also protected with something called “first loss provision” — which means that if the business can’t pay back investors (because it’s gone bankrupt, for example) the funds are used to underwrite part of your loss.
Other projects, meanwhile, might have match funding available, provided by UK aid and Virgin Unite. That means that the impact on the ground of your investment is amplified. These projects are clearly marked on the website.
2. Lend Money
Whatever you might think about investment, you actually don’t need lots of money to get involved. You can invest as little as £50 on the Energise Africa platform and can pay either immediately online or later by bank transfer.
In your online account, you can also see the status of your investment and can choose to add more at any time.
It’s also advised by the platform that you aim to reduce your risk, by spreading your money across different businesses.
Once investors have put enough into the project that it’s fully funded, the money from all investors is then transferred to the solar business — and then investors’ interest starts building.
3. Help Build a Sustainable Future
Once funded, the projects on the platform use the investments to buy solar home systems, and then sell them on to families in Africa with a financing plan.
The families, like the women you read about above, make affordable monthly payments using credit on their phones, while the business maintains the system.
About a year or two later, the customer usually owns the system outright — and the money they save in fuel costs can then be put towards other things.
4. Get Your Money Back, Plus Interest
Every six months, investors will receive both interest and a capital repayment from their chosen businesses, which you can view in your account.
You can either ask for those funds to be repaid to you, or you can reinvest them in another project.
You should remember though that as this is an investment with inherent risk of losing your capital, there is no guarantee of repayments, so take care with how much you choose to invest.
Just one more thing.
There’s also an online tracker tool that means, if you invest through Energise Africa, you can track the social, environmental, and financial impact that your investment is having.
So you can see both how your investments and portfolio are performing, and the positive impact that your money is having, through an interactive project timeline.
And, there’s also a Google Map feature so you can view the location of each solar home system installed.