Imagine if just one in five British homes had power
As of 2013, just 18.4% of Tanzanians had access to electricity. In urban areas, the percentage was about 45% and in rural areas somewhat below 6%. In Iringa, where Mama Bahati Foundation (MBF) has its main base, the majority of the population is rural, and access to electricity remains considerably restricted.
Efforts have been made to increase access to electricity and dramatic improvements were made between 2000 and 2010, but to an extent, the low-hanging fruit has been plucked. Extending the national grid to many parts of the country including rural areas is simply not financially feasible.
Without access to the grid, our clients mainly rely on firewood, charcoal and kerosene. Health issues, environmental degradation, and the strain that expensive fuels like kerosene put on a family’s already stretched finances are the unavoidable cost of light and warmth for much of the community.
The solution: a partnership with M-KOPA Solar
In Migori village, a small community that sits more than 90km from Iringa town, electricity is for the rich. Connection to the grid is rare and solar panels are prohibitively expensive. Like many of the people who live in rural Tanzania, Sada Mkula depends on a mixture of wood she can she can collect from the surrounding areas, charcoal she can buy from a local supplier, or - more rarely - kerosene.
In order to balance long and short-term impacts, our Tanzanian partner has joined forces with M-KOPA, a ground-breaking organisation which has received praise from people like Bill Gates and President Obama. There is nothing more instantaneous than flicking a switch to bring cheap, clean light and power to a household.
An instant impact
A few weeks ago, the MBF team visited Mama Mkula as part of their new partnership M-KOPA, a truly innovative (we know this is an overused term, but in this case, it’s entirely warranted) company that is sweeping East Africa. The team presented Mama Mkula with a solar panel that is about the size of an iPad mini (though a little thicker), a rechargeable radio, two LED bulbs, an LED flashlight, and a phone charger.
You can probably imagine the changes that a robust solar panel brings to a household like Sada Mkula’s: the bright light allows children can study into the night, the negative health impact of wood smoke are removed entirely, and money that was previously spent on expensive fuel can be used to purchase better quality food.
"THEY DIDN’T GET ANY CHANCE TO SIT TOGETHER IN THE EVENING AS A FAMILY, BUT TODAY, BECAUSE THEY HAVE A GOOD SOURCE OF LIGHT, FAMILY MEMBERS SIT TOGETHER FOR TELLING STORIES, LAUGHING AND IT IS EASY KNOW TO KNOW EVERYONE'S PROBLEMS AMONGST THE FAMILY MEMBERS."
And there are a number of more nuanced impacts. Each of our clients depends on their small business for their well-being and with a reliable light source shops and restaurants can open after dark. What's more, many of our clients rent out the solar panel's phone charging capacity to their neighbours, undercutting the more expensive charging stations that have sprung up across Tanzania over the past ten years.
In the home, instead of going to sleep as night falls, families can now gather around the solar-powered radio to listen to news and music. This last point, in particular, is one that our clients stress the importance of; many say that their family is closer than ever now that they can spend time together each evening.
Who pays for this?
M-KOPA is always striving to find new ways to reach isolated rural communities. The partnership with MBF unlocks a large network of prospective clients with a proven record of repayment. As with all of the Five Talents programmes, our local partners are known and trusted by the communities in which they work. This allows MBF to engage in sensitization and training around the solar product in return for a small commission which helps improve the organisation’s sustainability. Despite the fact that this partnership only started in March, in the first quarter of 2016 alone MBF covered 8% of their operational costs with income from M-KOPA.
M-KOPA is always striving to find new ways to reach isolated rural communities. The partnership with MBF unlocks a large network of prospective clients with a proven record of repayment. As with all of the Five Talents programmes, our local partners are known and trusted by the communities in which they work. This allows MBF to engage in sensitization and training around the solar product in return for a small commission which helps improve the organisation’s sustainability. In the second quarter of 2016, MBF covered 8% of their operational costs with income from M-KOPA.
In addition, MBF is helping increase access to the solar loans to the absolute bottom of the pyramid. Many of our more mathematically inclined readers will have calculated that 34p per day for a year doesn’t come to £150. This difference is a result of a required down payment of £25. For our poorest clients, this kind of one-off payment is sometimes impossible. To avoid limiting access, MBF has developed a special solar loan facility which breaks that cost down over a 4 month period.
Where does Mama Bahati Foundation come in?
Looking to the future
Both M-KOPA and MBF have ambitious expansion plans in place. Since the start of the year, Mama Bahati has opened two new branches in Dodoma and Morogoro, building on the lessons from the past ten years and adapting their microfinance model to the new areas. By the end of 2017, M-KOPA plans to reach one million homes. We hope you share the excitement we feel towards this project.
As is often the case with development, it’s sometimes easy to get lost in the big plans, statistics, and organisational details. Whilst this piece is a little technical (and lengthy, well done for making it to the end!), we wanted to share the detail of this partnership with you, our supporter. Solar loans are never going to replace the long-term Five Talents programmes in Tanzania, but we see this partnership as a valuable tool in the anti-poverty toolbox. If you only take one thing away from this, please take the image of Sada Mkula flicking the switch on the LED that hangs from her ceiling for the first time, and picture her smile as light fills her home.