Digital Finance Innovations Bring Energy Access in Uganda

Irene Ahebwa uses a BrightLife stove to cleanly cook a meal and charge her phone.

Celebrating Progress in Poverty Alleviation

Sub-Saharan Africa has become a hub for basic service and financial innovations. A new generation of social enterprises are emerging to provide game-changing solutions in energy, education, sanitation and agriculture. And mobile money services are transforming the financial services landscape, expanding the frontiers of financial inclusion.

In this final week of December, Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) is highlighting organizations using digital finance innovations to empower poor people in Africa. The goal is to showcase customer photos that portray encouraging stories of progress. BrightLife, a social enterprise by FINCA, fits squarely into this area. We are proud to have a customer photo featured in the CGAP photo gallery. Here is a glimpse of her story.

FINCA Microfinance Client Introduced to BrightLife

Irene Ahebwa, age 26, is a BrightLife energy customer in rural Uganda. She is also a member of a savings and loaning group through FINCA Uganda. Irene lives in Hoima with her husband, Joseph Ahaisibwe, and their three children, ages 1, 4 and 5. Her story reveals the tremendous potential of pairing digital finance with clean energy.

With two FINCA loans of 800,000 Ugandan Shillings each ($216), Irene purchased goods to run a small produce stand. One afternoon, she paid a visit to her local FINCA branch. Inside, Irene noticed a display of BrightLife energy products. A shiny and modern looking cookstove, designed and  manufactured by BioLite, caught her eye. Curious, she asked for more information. Bakirana Benard, a BrightLife sales agent, quickly greeted her and explained the product and its benefits.

When I learned that this cookstove had a light and could charge a phone, I thought, ‘Wow.’

Up until that day, Irene prepared her family’s meals using a traditional charcoal stove. It was cheaply constructed, falling apart and slow at cooking. Irene would spend an hour making a stiff porridge, called posho. Not only that, but also it produced lots of smoke that made Irene cough and get headaches.

The charcoal stove was also a safety hazard. Because of its open design and lack of stability, it was dangerous for her children to be around. This was tough to get around because Irene cooked outside on the front stoop where her kids liked to play.

Because of this, Irene was drawn to the BrightLife cookstove she saw on display. But how could she afford it?

BrightLife and FINCA Uganda client, Irene Ahebwa, at home with her son, Benjamin.

Using Fintech to Make Clean Energy Affordable

After speaking with the BrightLife sales agent, Irene discovered she could finance the cookstove over time. This payment model, known as pay-as-you-go (PAYGo), put an otherwise unaffordable good within reach. Irene could make small monthly payments, which was more manageable for her family’s budget. Plus, the payments are done digitally using her mobile phone. Such financial technology (“fintech”) innovation eliminates the need to make frequent, long and costly trips into town to pay.

This new cookstove is much faster and it doesn’t dirty the cooking pot like my old charcoal stove. It’s also safer for my children because it keeps the flame and heat contained inside.

Now, it takes Irene just 20 minutes to prepare posho for the family instead of 60 minutes.

Irene was so satisfied with the cookstove that she went back to Benard and bought a modern and efficient charcoal cookstove and a portable solar lantern.

With FINCA loans and BrightLife clean energy products, Irene’s household is enjoying a better quality of life. Digital finance innovations like mobile money paired with generous donor support make all this possible.

If you are moved by Irene’s story, consider voting for her photo in the 2018 CGAP Photo Contest. Voting is open online until December 28. Vote for Irene’s photo now!

Update: On February 11, 2019, our photo submission was declared a winner in the category of “Digital Finance and Development.” Thanks to all who voted! See alll the winners on CGAP.

Photo by Alison Wright