Just five years ago, the number of sub-Saharan Africans without access to electricity began to decline. Significant progress has been made in East Africa, where the number of people without access has declined by 14 percent since 2012. Despite this advancement, 590 million people—more than half of the sub-Saharan African population—remain without access to electricity. Unsurprisingly, more than 80 percent of those without electricity live in rural areas, where the electrification rate is less than 25 percent. In urban areas, it is 71 percent. Grid expansion remains the primary means of bringing electrification to the region. However, the grid has struggled to keep pace with population growth. Off-grid solutions are needed to catalyze progress.
In February, team members from BrightLife—a social enterprise by FINCA International—participated in the Africa Energy Forum: Off the Grid in Kampala, Uganda. This three-day expo gathered developers, financial institutions, government officials and original equipment manufacturers to discuss the future of off-grid energy solutions in sub-Saharan Africa. Topics of discussion included: financing off-grid solutions, advancing solar home technology, inspiring community engagement and much more.
BrightLife was the only company at the expo to present solutions for solar lighting and power, and clean cooking. FINCA uses its specialist finance expertise and distribution capacity to make these products available and affordable to off-grid Ugandan families.
This point of distinction did not go unnoticed at the expo. BrightLife’s business model and products caught the eye of Ambassador Deborah R. Malac, U.S Ambassador to Uganda, and H.E. Ambassador Attilio Pacific, European Union Ambassador to Uganda, who were in attendance. BrightLife Customer Care Manager, Babra Precious Ndinawe, recalls their words:
The ambassadors commented on the smaller, scalable and affordable nature of BrightLife’s solar products. They pointed out that these qualities would allow for deeper market penetration so that more people living off the grid could gain access to energy.
BrightLife only distributes products that boast a combination of high quality and extreme affordability. A variety of product offerings means that BrightLife can cater to varying customer needs. Five types of solar energy products and two types of improved cookstove products were on display at the expo. BrightLife makes these products affordable through pay-as-you-go financing, called Flexipay. Deogratias Biwaga, who is the Sales and Distribution Manager for BrightLife, explains:
Our focus is on the people at the bottom of the pyramid and how we may help to better their lives. Many competitors are focused on profits and few offer payment options on credit. With Flexipay, BrighLife enables low-income Ugandans to pay for solar energy and cookstove products over time. This puts otherwise unaffordable, life-enhancing products within reach.
Meaningful access to basic services—such as solar energy and improved cookstoves—requires access to finance. Recognizing this, FINCA has an important role to play in accelerating solutions in off-grid energy.