With the goal of bringing affordable, clean energy to rural communities, Kiva Labs announced this month that it will make its biggest loan ever of US $500,000 to Alternative Energy Technologies Group (Altech), the market leader of home solar and clean cookstove distribution in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
The DRC is one of the least-electrified countries in the world, with over 90% of its population living without access to electricity. The majority of these 70 million people reside in rural areas, relying on harmful and expensive energy options to cook food and light their homes.
The loan will allow Altech to scale distribution and provide electricity to 125,000 households, with payment plans that make the company’s products affordable to the DRC’s marginalized communities. By replacing dangerous, costly fuels with solar power and clean cookstoves, the investment helps counter the effects of climate change and enables Congolese people to improve their respiratory health, education hours, and quality of life.
“These funds are going to bring clean, renewable energy to communities off the grid and provide opportunities Iongwa and I were denied as kids.”
A refugee-founded social enterprise
Political upheaval and widespread poverty have displaced an estimated 5 million people in recent years. Many who remain lack basic resources, living on an average income of USD $700 per year. To cook and power their homes, Congolese people collectively spend upwards of US $1 billion a year on kerosene, an expensive and dangerous indoor pollutant that contributes to respiratory disease and millions of deaths each year worldwide.
Altech co-founders Washikala Malango and Iongwa Mashangao escaped their home village of Baraka during the Congolese civil war as children and grew up together in a refugee camp in Tanzania. After graduating from college, the young entrepreneurs returned to their home country to address the country’s energy needs by launching Altech in 2013. Their solar-powered lighting solutions replace the need for kerosene while thermal efficient clean cookstoves reduce charcoal use, saving households millions and mitigating the pollution that causes climate change.
Since 2013, Altech has sold over 200,000 units and plans to scale by another 800,000 by 2025, with a vision to eliminate energy poverty completely in the DRC by 2030. In addition to helping replace dangerous and expensive fuels with clean energy, Altech has created more than 2900 jobs, saved its consumers over US $40 million in fuel costs, and reduced CO2 emissions by 375,000 tons.
“These funds are going to bring clean, renewable energy to communities off the grid and provide opportunities Iongwa and I were denied as kids,” says Malango.
“We should all share in the joy of spreading light in the DRC.”
Read more: Cooking clean: The innovative energy system that’s helping the environment
Alignment with the mission
“The world is rife with challenges, but in every corner of the globe there are entrepreneurs with solutions.”
This is Altech’s second loan funded by Kiva’s Labs program. The first, fully repaid loan of $100,000 helped the Congolese social enterprise bring solar systems to hundreds off-the-grid households, and its success made it a viable fit for the program’s first $500,000 loan.
Kiva Labs began by offering $50,000 loans for social enterprises. Unlike traditional capital, Kiva Labs provides risk tolerant and impact-first financing with flexible repayment terms so entrepreneurs can worry less about cash flow and seize opportunities to invest in their businesses.
To date, the program has provided more than USD $12 million in loans to over 100 social enterprises in 36 countries. It continues to deepen its support of efforts to adapt to and build resilience towards the impacts of climate change, serving populations at risk like those in the DRC.
“Kiva Labs has been increasing its impact investments since 2011 as part of its efforts to make a world where every community has access to the resources they need,” says Chad Sterbenz, Chief Investment Officer at Kiva.
“It is a privilege to be able to provide $500,000 flexible, risk tolerant, working capital to the Altech Group as they spread sustainable electricity throughout their home country. The world is rife with challenges, but in every corner of the globe there are entrepreneurs with solutions.”
When it comes to borrowing capital to implement those solutions, many social enterprises fall into the “missing middle,” where they are too small for traditional banks and too large for microfinance institutions. By providing flexible, risk-tolerant, impact-first capital, Kiva Labs helps scale social enterprises like Altech and promote innovation in underserved communities, expanding Kiva’s mission of financial inclusion for all.
This historic loan will make a momentous impact on the lives of people in the DRC, and it’s made possible by Kiva lenders.
Want to be part of history? Contribute to Altech’s loan today.