At this year’s Convergences Global Forum, Tujijenge Afrika executive director, Felistas Coutinho, discussed their solar loan projects in Tanzania and Uganda. Since 2006, Coutinho has been developing and refining the loan programs, with 1,577 clients served in the first year alone.
These projects demonstrate a successful model for product development that meets the needs of poor people through partnership and perseverance. Below are some of highlights, including challenges faced and lessons learned, as presented by Coutinho at the Global Forum.
Why are solar lanterns needed in Tanzania and Uganda? Especially in in rural areas, some benefits of solar lanterns for people living poverty are listed below:
- Increased productivity due to availability of light in the evening
- Children are able to study in the evenings
- Solar lanterns offer clean, healthier light than other alternatives
- Less expensive than other alternatives by at least 25%
- Access to electricity fills the phone charging gap, increasing access to communication channels
Graphic by Felistas Coutinho in “Providing access to basic social services:
What role for microfinance?” – Convergneces Global Forum 2013
The model used by Tujijenge Tanzania and Uganda is as follows:
- Identify 2 to 3 reliable turnkey products/suppliers
- Sign Memorandum of understanding between MFI and Supplier
- Train MFI staff on product and marketing
- Create incentives for staff
- Collect feedback from clients
- More work/complexity than just credit
- Consequences of receiving an unreliable batch of products
- Loan officers are not technical people
- Follow-up servicing of solar lanterns is expensive due to the travel distance
- Building adequate awareness; Need for repetition
- Cost of funds
- Training and awareness is of the utmost importance
- Having the right partners upfront is key – high dependency on partners for success
- Openness and flexibility is very important – no system is perfect
- Trust is very important
- Attitude of staff will dictate success or failure, not the need or the product
- Time consuming. Riskier.
- Impact reviews provide motivation on benefits
- Continuous monitoring is important for success and continuity
- Go for simple packages
- Impact is multi dimensional: income, productivity, security, confidence, informed
The project was born in 2006 when Felistas Coutinho, Tujijenge Afrika’s executive director, developed a financing model for SACCOS in the Arusha/Moshi region in Tanzania. After 5 years without supervision, her efforts resulted in a sustainable lending program of solar systems. In 2011/2012, Coutinho replicated a modified version with SACCOS in Uganda, also resulting in a successful loan program offering solar energy products to their clientele.
Are solar loans relevant to the needs of your clients?
If not, what can and cannot be generalized from this model in other contexts?
We welcome your thoughts in the comments section below.