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Solar mini-grids re-energise rural Rwandan economy

26/10/2018

The number of enterprises have doubled in the village of Gitaraga, Rwanda, since MeshPower’s solar mini-grid was set up last May. The 4Kw mini-grid, which provides affordable, pay-as-you-go power services to 200 households and 48 businesses, is revitalising the local economy, improving the living standards of many people in the area. 

Energy 4 Impact works in partnership with MeshPower, and other solar mini-grid developers in Rwanda, to enable new and existing businesses to seize the opportunities that electricity brings. By building their capacity to take advantage of power access, businesses can diversify and grow. 

27 year old Nyiramuhire Francoise lives in Gitaraga and owns a tailoring business. Poor quality sewing appliances, a lack of electricity and poor business skills were all constraints to her business’ performance. Now, thanks to new electrical machines, training and business coaching from Energy 4 Impact, her hard work is finally paying off; she can provide more designs and better services, at a lesser cost of time and money.

After Nyiramuhire lost her father, all the family could afford for her was vocational training in tailoring. After this, she worked at a local town’s tailoring shop, until she saved enough to start her own business; when she did, she only made $1.50 per day.

With the support of Energy 4 Impact, things began to improve. After the mini-grid was introduced in Gitaraga, Energy 4 Impact provided one-on-one mentorship to Nyiramuhire. Focussing on business management skills, Energy 4 Impact helped her improve her pricing, customer service, record keeping, and market her business more effectively. It also provided a 70% grant for electrical sewing machines, and technical training on their operation.

Since then, the business has expanded - Nyiramuhire now has three employees and serves many neighbouring communities, also sewing the uniforms for a local school. Electrical sewing machines allow a variety of designs and embroidery to be produced, so Nyiramuhire can accommodate whatever her clients need. The machines also save time, increasing profitability. This, in turn, enabled Nyiramuhire to re-investment in her business and establish an ibitenge shop - a type of African fabric design.

My business has shown tremendous improvement since Energy 4 Impact stepped in. My daily income has now increased to $36 per day,

says Nyiramuhire.

Nyiramuhire’s business is just one that has benefitted from Energy 4 Impact’s support. Other businesses have also improved as a result - these include a health centre, an internet kiosk, and services offering phone charging, welding and food and drink refrigeration, all within Gitaraga.

 

Energy 4 Impact has helped identify appropriate electrical appliances, and enabled access to capital to obtain them. Through training and advice, it has increased knowledge of appliance operation, health and safety standards, and skills like record keeping, marketing and customer care. 

“Power access doesn’t automatically result in increased economic activity,” says Robert Mulindwa, Business Development Services Coordinator at Energy 4 Impact. “Small, informal enterprises benefit from business development support, such as advice on markets, supply chains and the economics of their business case, as well as access to capital, to obtain electrically powered equipment”. 

“In addition,” explains Robert, “stimulating demand for electricity is crucial for mini-grids to be financially viable. Due to their greater demand, businesses provide the revenue critical to mini-grid success. This is why we partner with rural electrification projects and local businesses through our SOGER programme.”

By supporting micro-entrepreneurs in communities served by mini-grids, Energy 4 Impact enables businesses to use power to improve their productivity. This creates a stronger market for energy in rural areas, which improves the viability of rural electrification projects. This, in turn, is transformative on a socio-economic level: it results in more jobs for men and women, higher incomes and better services - which can be used to access and improve health services and education.

Under the SOGER programme, Energy 4 Impact is working with three other renewable energy standalone projects and four pico-hydro projects and supports many more local businesses to take advantage of their new electricity access. So far, 23 jobs have been created from village-level micro businesses, and 253 jobs, temporary and permanent, have been created from the two pico-hydros under construction.