Kenneth holds up his kerosene lantern and proudly says, “I won’t need this one anymore!” He wipes the dust off the table and asks us to sit down. We follow his offer and start listening to his story.
Kenneth lives in a fishing village on Rusinga Island in Lake Victoria inhabited by some 20,000 to 30,000 people, mostly Luo or Suba. Rusinga is an off-grid area, which means that there is no access to electricity in a traditional sense. Kenneth has been running a “hotel” for a couple of years. "Hotel" in western Kenya usually means restaurant. His customers are mostly people from his community and migrant fishermen from all across Lake Victoria.
The business is running well, but he wants to expand. He explains to us in great detail how he envisions his new hotel. There will be additional tables and a greater variety of dishes on the menu to attract more customers. Also, he wants to add a roof to the outside cooking area to be able to cook when it is not raining. And, most importantly, he wants to extend his hours of operation. You can clearly see a gleam in his eyes when he was talking about this vision.
Just across from Kenneth's hotel, we meet Peter. If your cell phone is about to die you want to be his friend. Peter runs a small store where you can either charge small electronics or can get a haircut. Peter, also owner of a boda-boda motorcycle taxi business, drives about 10 miles to Mbita every other day to recharge a set of car batteries which he uses to serve the community's electricity needs. Efficient, huh? Actually, Peter seems very entrepreneurial and efficient. When we meet him, he walks up to us with such purpose that we could sense that something exciting is going on here.
Where is this opportunity coming from? Yes, it has to do with Kiva Zip! Kenneth and Peter are both new Kiva Zip borrowers on Rusinga Island endorsed by trustee Renewable World. But that’s not all. They also get the opportunity to get on the micro-grid created by a hybrid solar-wind power generator. Renewable World manages a project that built a fascinating power station in the middle of the village. It is basically a small house with a solar panel on the roof and a wind turbine in the front. It is much smaller than the ones we know from the U.S. or Europe, but it is incredibly efficient. An hour of light provided by the new power station will be much cheaper than the kerosene needed for an hour of light provided by a lantern.
This technology was developed by access:energy a social enterprise that designs, manufactures, and services renewable energy technologies in East Africa. The installation on Rusinga Island is their premium product because the hybrid structure allows for maximum efficiency. When the sun is out, the solar panel generates power. When it is cloudy and windy, the wind turbine is providing the energy. Together with Renewable World, they offer an innovative leasing model to the community. For the individual household or business it means that all they need is getting wired into the micro-grid. And this is where Kiva Zip gets involved. Kenneth and Peter will use their Kiva Zip loans to buy wires, light bulbs and outlets, which enables them to keep their restaurant open at night or focus on other things besides driving to the next big city to charge a car battery.
Conversations with Kenneth and Peter made us really understand what a difference it makes for a business model to not having access to efficient, clean energy. What it means on a personal level we found out later. We got on a small fisher boot from the bay in Mbita and headed westward towards Uganda. After about an hour, we reached Mfangano Island.
Not only a business need...
We went to Mfangano Island to meet another trustee, Organic Health Response (OHR). We stayed with Robinson, our Kiva contact at OHR. He is extremely progressive when it comes to technology (he just got a new iPhone). OHR is the first and only place where you can access the internet on the island. With the support of another access:energy’s hybrid power installation, they supply the OHR community center with electricity that allows them to run about 20 PCs and their own radio broadcasting station used for health education.
But when we got to his house, which was a little more secluded and too far away from the power station, it was completely dark inside, even though the sun was just setting. Robinson’s wife was preparing dinner with a battery-charged headlamp, but a kerosene lantern dimly lit the main area. It smells so intensely that you can tell it’s not healthy for you to breathe. Kenya’s public school teachers have been on strike for a while, so Robinson’s son has to study at home. He is an amazingly smart kid and read to us part of his book. It was heartbreaking to see how he was squinting in order to read in the darkness. But hopefully Robinson's house will be hooked up to the grid soon.
Supporting innovative technologies like access:energy's power installations has an incredible impact on the lives of people in off-grid areas. Often it is a lack of liquidity that keeps households from investing in new, clean technologies. For this reason, Kiva provides loans for products that replace kerosene lanterns, inside fire-pits and other types of unhealthy, dangerous methods.
Also check out these Kiva field partners that provide clean energy products:
- Solar Sister - Loans for women to sell solar products to their villages
- Sistema Biobolsa - Loans for biodigesters in Mexico that turn waste into fertilizer and energy
- IluMexico - Loans for solar home systems in Mexico
- EarthSpark International - Loans for solar lights and improved cook stoves in Haiti
- Sanergy - Loans for improved toilets that allow waste to be collected for fertilizer and energy in Kenya
- Visionary Empowerment Programme - Loans for clean lights and stoves in Kenya
- Entrepreneurs du Monde - Loans for improved cook stove retailers in Burkina Faso
- Barefoot Power - Loans for solar product retailers in Tanzania
- TECNOSOL - Loans for solar home systems in Nicaragua
- Nuru Energy - Loans for PowerCycles that produce energy for phone charging and lights
- One Degree Solar - Loans for solar home systems in Kenya
- XacBank - Loans for home insulation, hybrid vehicles and more in Mongolia
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Nora Mueller-Alten Nora grew up in Germany and studied business as an undergrad while working for a global cosmetics company. During this time, she spent time in Budapest, Hungary and the American Northeast, cementing her reputation as a professional nomad and avid traveler. Interested in better understanding people’s decision-making, she returned to university in Germany where she earned an MA in economics with a minor in psychology. After an exchange semester in California, she took off to South America for two months. Observing the street vendors in Peru was the first time she understood first-hand how 'microeconomics' really worked. For the next two years she worked as a consultant with the Boston Consulting Group both in Europe and the US and is currently pursuing her MBA at Yale University with a focus on international development and organizational behavior. Her passion for new cultures and off-the-beaten-track travels has taken her most recently to Mexico, Myanmar and Indonesia. Constantly on the lookout for efficient market solutions, she is enthusiastic about the concept of microfinance and proud to be part of the mission to scale the borrower-lender network for Kiva Zip.