December 14, 2017

Spreading Light Wherever She Goes

Spreading Light Wherever She Goes

Imagine your day ending at 7:30 PM. Enveloped in total darkness – save for the dim light of a hazardous kerosene lamp – your work comes to a stop.  Your children can no longer study. Feeling unproductive and left with few alternatives, you retire to bed early.

Such is the reality for the more than two billion people who live without or with very limited access to electricity. The majority are concentrated in rural, low-income parts of developing countries. They are forced to rely on polluting, hazardous and expensive fuel alternatives resulting in dire consequences: increased health risks (disproportionately higher for women), environmental degradation, decreased productivity leading to lower income generation and reduced access to education. Combined, these factors perpetuate a vicious cycle of poverty.

Brenda Nansasi knows it doesn’t have to be this way and is set on creating a brighter tomorrow – quite literally.

Brenda is a field supervisor for BrightLife, a social enterprise launched by FINCA in Uganda to provide last mile distribution and financing for life-improving products. These include home solar lighting systems, clean cookstoves, and water filtration systems.

In her role, Brenda mentors and oversees a network of BrightLife field agents. Her team is responsible for visiting off-grid populations – which includes 90% of Ugandans – providing product demonstrations, education, distribution and after-sales support to end users.

Brenda got her start after completing a degree in procurement and logistics management at Kaplan University in Kampala. She then joined FINCA’s BrightLife program as a commission-based field agent, initially serving 56 clients. It wasn’t long before Brenda’s client list soared past 400.

“In the morning I would report to a FINCA branch for a team meeting,” recounted Brenda. “Then I would go out into the field alongside FINCA loan officers. After making sales, I would report back to the office to pick-up products for distribution to clients.”

solar agent

On a typical day, Brenda would meet two groups of 15-30 potential clients each. After patiently demonstrating the ins and outs of a home solar energy system or a clean cookstove – truly incredible technology in the eyes of her audience – Brenda would explain the most important part: how they can get one of these products in their home or business.

For more than thirty years, FINCA has used microloans as a tool to enable hardworking entrepreneurs to succeed. With BrightLife, FINCA employs the same approach to product financing: credit. It’s called Flexipay, and it allows low-income households to purchase solar electricity, clean cookstoves and water filters on credit. Customers pay using their mobile phone, with payments spread over a six-month term making it extremely affordable. This novel approach puts otherwise unattainable products directly into the hands of those who stand to benefit the most.

After three years of building her client base as a field agent, Brenda was promoted to supervisor. Not only does this assure her a stable source of income, but also medical insurance for her family.

“I have two children, ages three and seven,” said Brenda. “When I was still an agent, one of my children needed major surgery, which I had to pay for out of pocket. But now that I am a salaried employee with full benefits, I don’t have to worry about facing such a financial hardship again.”

solar agent

But Brenda and her family aren’t the only ones benefiting from BrightLife.

“BrightLife products have really helped people in Uganda! Our clients are saving time and money,” Brenda shared enthusiastically.

Most people in Uganda are low-income and cannot afford products like these. But with Flexipay, we are giving people access to these products – solar energy and clean cookstoves – and it’s improving their lifestyle.

Alison Boess, Country Director for BrightLife in Uganda, knows firsthand what kind of impact Brenda has had in her community.

“As an agent, Brenda directly helped more than 440 families purchase clean energy products from BrightLife,” said Alison. “That’s 2,500 Ugandans who have improved health, security and resilience from her care and hard work.”

One such Ugandan is a widow named Joy. She has purchased nearly each type of product from BrightLife.

“Joy began by taking a solar lamp for her business to extend her income-earning hours,” Brenda said. “Then she bought one for her home. As her business grew, she even purchased a clean cookstove. Her family is healthier and safer as a result.”

Brenda’s findings aren’t surprising. FINCA recently completed focus groups and a user survey to assess clients’ perceptions of their BrightLife products. Here are just two benefits these clients shared with us:

  • 90% reported health improvements such as better eyesight, fewer burns, and fewer respiratory problems.
  • 90% of solar customers and 60% of cookstove customers reported improved household security.

This is the kind of life-transforming impact made possible by FINCA’s BrightLife program, and Brenda’s tireless efforts bringing solutions to underserved markets.

And her accomplishments have not gone unnoticed. Just last month, Whole Planet Foundation recognized Brenda with a Field Officer Appreciation Award in the Africa/MENA region for 2017. For Brenda and her fellow Ugandans, the future is looking brighter.

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