BrightLife, a Uganda-based social enterprise by global microfinance pioneer FINCA International (“FINCA”), has been awarded a grant through the USAID Power Africa De-Risking Pay-As-You-Go Solar Home Systems initiative. The grant enables BrightLife to bring clean energy products designed for extreme affordability and unmatched performance to the Kiryandongo Refugee Settlement in central Uganda.
Infrastructure Constraints in Refugee Communities
Refugees in Uganda enjoy one of the friendliest and most progressive policies of any host country in the world. They can move freely, work, own property, resettle and integrate locally. There are currently over 1.2 million refugees living in Uganda—the largest number in Africa.
But, along with most of their host communities across the country, refugees struggle to access basic services like energy due to infrastructure constraints and low incomes. In Kiryandongo Settlement, for example, which hosts over 57,000 mostly South Sudanese refugees, only 30 percent of the refugees and 50 percent of the host community have access to a source of light other than kerosene. Considered too risky due to low abilities to pay and the perceived transience of the refugee communities they host, areas like Kiryandongo are often left behind by private sector-led developments.
De-Risking Solar Energy Access
A new initiative by BrightLife, with support from USAID Power Africa, aims to buck the trend by actively engaging the refugees and their host communities. Through the “USAID Power Africa De-Risking Pay-As-You-Go Solar Home Systems” initiative, BrightLife will provide clean, affordable solar home systems to the Kiryandongo Refugee Settlement. BrightLife will set up a full-fledged operation in the adjacent Bweyale town, enabling convenient local access to the most affordable solar home systems on the market. To make these life-enhancing goods accessible to cash-strapped refugees, customers can pay in monthly installments using pay-as-you-go (PAYGo) financing.
“Income and social status shouldn’t circumscribe one’s opportunities in life,” said BrightLife President and CEO, Stefan Grundmann, at the launch of the project in May.
This grant provides us with funds to take a critical service to an area and population segment that otherwise would not attract investors due to the perceived risks. It allows us to pilot a new model of our solar home system business, which combines unmatched product performance with extreme affordability, a win-win for the benefiting community.
Establishing a presence near the settlement will not only allow BrightLife to bring its solar home systems closer to refugees in Kiryandongo, but also maintain the close and regular after-sales client interactions necessary to build trust and sustainability. Moreover, a local branch allows BrightLife to offer employment opportunities to refugees, and partner with organizations rooted in the community for the deepest possible reach, while building local capacities.
Synergies with Financial Inclusion
If the pilot succeeds, it could provide a template for how social enterprises and public sector partners can collaborate to improve access to clean energy solutions for refugees and their host communities throughout Uganda. The project also holds promise for linking refugees and their hosts to other services, such as access to finance. For example, the credit profiles built through the PAYGo service could be useful for microfinance providers to design and offer financial services to this population segment.
“By supporting these innovators, we are not only promoting energy access, but also financial inclusion and other opportunities that digital financial services can help unlock,” said USAID Uganda Acting Mission Director Rick Somarriba.
We hope that lessons and experiences gained through this project will be a catalyst for improving livelihoods in other refugee settlements.