ECOBORA Solar Kiosks
How can a company not only contribute to enhancing rural access to green energy but also boosting local women entrepreneurs in a sustainable fashion? Justine Abuga, the founder of Ecobora, might have found an innovative solution in Kenya with inexpensive ‘rent-a-shelf’ solar retail kiosks. These frugally designed kiosks cost just a few hundred dollars, and are built by the community for the community, using local materials. Local women entrepreneurs use the kiosks to sell bio-fuels, their own agri-produce, and other beneficial products. Distributors can ‘rent-a-shelf ’ in the kiosk to sell their products such as solar lanterns and other fast-moving consumer goods.
Reaching the Last Mile The idea came about when Ecobora, like many organisations, experienced difficulty accessing remote communitieswhere people live below USD$8 a day. For such communities, products like solar home systems, clean cookstoves and fuels can be life-changing - but getting these products to them is a huge challenge. However, this challenge quickly became a motivation to innovate. Ecobora started a project that eventually became one of nine projects being piloted by the Global Distributors Collective (GDC) through its Innovation Challenge, which is made possible thanks to aid from the United Kingdom.
The challenge crowdsources innovations from GDC members (last mile distributors), helps to bring the best ideas to life, and supports the broader last mile distribution community to replicate and learn from those innovations. The Global Distributors Collective is hosted by Practical Action, alongside implementing partners Bopinc and Hystra; with Bopinc providing technical support to Ecobora’s solar kiosks pilot.
Including Women, Sustaining Green Energy The idea for Solar Kiosks was born from feedback given by small-scale farming entrepreneurs, namely, a collective of sales women. These women groups are quite common in Kenya and are called ‘Chamas’. They are groups of up to 50 women who work together as a collective and support each other in their entrepreneurial activities. These groups have built up a strong trust between its members and collectively make sure their entrepreneurial endeavours remain strong and sustainable. With this partnership between Ecobora and the women groups, there is a mutual benefit for each party as they help rural communities access green energy and other lifechanging products.