A Unique Opportunity to Reach the Rural BoP

By Susie Wheeldon, Campaigns Manager, SolarAid

A Unique Opportunity to Reach the Rural BoP

The significance of harvest time for farmers is not going to shock many but less obvious, perhaps, is its importance for those trying to reach the rural BOP.

Through its social enterprise, SunnyMoney, SolarAid has now reached over 3 million people with pico (<10 watt) solar lights, selling over 670,000 in East Africa and eradicating over a million kerosene lamps.

Harvest has been part of that success.

SolarAid’s Business Model

SolarAid, founded in 2006, has spent many years bringing solar power to East Africa, helping to lift millions from fuel poverty. The charity’s goal is to eradicate the toxic kerosene lamp entirely from the continent by 2020. With 598 million living without electricity, and the majority using kerosene for lighting, it is an audacious ambition.

To do this, SolarAid’s social enterprise is catalysing the markets needed for solar lights to become as ubiquitous as the mobile phone. SunnyMoney is now the leading distributor of solar lights in Africa, growing 500% in each of the last two years. SolarAid meanwhile works with multilaterals to develop pioneering micro-energy programmes and shares knowledge to encourage other players to join the fledgling industry. The organisation is raising awareness of pico solar technology from the remotest African villages to the boardrooms of the biggest multinationals.

“SunnyMoney has cracked the code on the distribution side of solar lanterns in East Africa.” –

Dr. Wieber Boer, CEO, Tony Elumelu Foundation

So Why is Harvest Important?

It has achieved all this by addressing the three main barriers to solar energy access in off-grid African communities: availability, affordability and trust.

Using a ground breaking approach, SunnyMoney educates Head Teachers about the benefits of solar technology and works with these respected community leaders to bring lights to remote rural regions. Through this channel, the organisation has created an effective and evolving marketing and distribution strategy enabling pico solar lights to be sold at scale. Excess income is recycled back in to market building – creating ever more momentum and sales.

“One of the biggest challenges in getting sustainable energy to the poor is the last mile – remote rural areas where commercial distribution and retail networks simply don’t exist. SolarAid’s ingenious distribution methods are getting power to the people who need it the most.” – Sarah Butler-Sloss, Ashden Founder Director

Yet affordability remains a challenge.

Although SunnyMoney only sells the smallest (high-quality) solar lights there are still many who struggle with the £5 upfront cost. To address this problem, SolarAid – working with Angaza Design – aims to pilot the cheapest ever pay-as-you-go solar light in late 2013. For the moment, though, it focusses on another ingenious, yet much lower-tech, solution: Harvest.

In order to maximise the number of people able to purchase a solar light, SunnyMoney evaluates the best time to start its solar education and community programmes by reviewing the harvest patterns across East Africa. Quite simply, it is at harvest that the greatest number of families have the money to invest.

Impact and Opportunity

Research is already demonstrating the huge benefits of pico solar lights: improvements to health, safety and study time as well as savings of £250 over their five year life-span. This money is often spent on food, education or farming inputs.

“We save money which is used to buy food that has made us more healthy.” G Kayange, solar light customer, Karonga, Malawi

It also provides additional income to purchase other life-enhancing technology; a bigger light which can charge mobile phones or the opportunity to save for a larger solar pay-as-you-go system. SolarAid and SunnyMoney’s work has already saved BOP consumers over $40,000,000 – money families can use to improve their welfare or create their own business opportunities.

SolarAid’s success over the last two-years has been staggering. However, with such a huge number living without electricity, the organisation will continue to use all the low-tech and high-tech solutions it can find to spread pico solar even further – and harvest is one of them.

Crowdfunding for Harvest

SolarAid has just launched a harvest crowdfunding campaign to bring solar lights to rural Kenya. For more details, please click here or contact to*******@so*******.org


SolarAid is a London-based international development charity tackling poverty and climate change by building sustainable markets for solar energy. Its social enterprise, SunnyMoney, is the leading distributor of solar lights in Africa.

Currently operating in Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia and Kenya, SolarAid aims to eradicate the kerosene lamp from Africa by 2020. Its award winning community distribution model is catalysing a market for pico-solar products: providing economic opportunity for businesses and local entrepreneurs whilst making clean, safe light accessible in remote rural areas.

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