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Woman entrepreneur conquers the odds to bring cleaner energy vision to her remote African village


Lilian Wangeci is an ambitious energy entrepreneur with a passion for solar. She has recently tripled her sales of solar products and diversified her operations. But the path to success has not been plain sailing. 

The idea for Lilian’s business came out of a challenge she was grappling with: how her family and neighbours could light their homes without kerosene lamps, which are costly and also have health impacts. Lilian thought that solar could be the solution. Supplying solar lanterns could save her and her neighbours money; she could generate income by selling to her family and neighbours; and hopefully turn her venture into a full-time business, making enough money to expand into selling solar home systems. 

To start with, Lilian got a lot of interest and it seemed that demand for solar lamps was high. She quit her job and began selling solar lanterns in her village in Ngurubani, central Kenya. However, she faced two significant barriers.

I struggled to raise enough money to purchase good quality solar products from reputable dealers such as d.light. And when I did raise the money, my customers would often struggle to pay for these products upfront.

Lilian said.

Also, many buyers would choose poor quality counterfeit products - often four or five times cheaper than mine. Then when the cheaper lanterns stopped working after a short time, a distrust of solar products spread, affecting interest in my lanterns too. I needed to be able to show them that investing in good quality, verified lighting was better in the long run.

she explained.

High upfront costs, a proliferation of poor quality products and a suspicion of new solar technologies are common barriers facing energy entrepreneurs

said Godfrey Sanga, WIRE Programme Manager at Energy 4 Impact.

Under our two-year Women Integration into Renewable Energy (WIRE) initiative (funded by the US Department of State), we introduced Lilian and a number of other local entrepreneurs to reliable suppliers such as Sunking, who engaged them as sales officers. We also helped them with their business and marketing skills to raise their professionalism and build trust between the entrepreneurs and the suppliers

Godfrey explained.

As Sunking sales officers, the women can now obtain products without having to make any upfront payment. The Sunking PAYG system accepts repayments from customers over an agreed period of time - typically six months. The products can be monitored and controlled remotely in order to manage the risk of non-repayments.

Now I have access to a stock of good quality solar lanterns and solar home systems without needing to raise any upfront payment and my customers are happy because they can pay in instalments

Lilian said.

To raise awareness of the benefits of solar energy and help to build consumer interest for Lilian and the other sales officers, Energy 4 Impact and the supply companies hold events and roadshows in local villages. Energy 4 Impact also provided business and financial skills, empowerment, and leadership training and tools to support the women sales agents and entrepreneurs.

The Energy 4 Impact sales and marketing training has given me the confidence to approach potential buyers and talk about the cost-effectiveness of quality solar products, and to explain the payment terms and the installation process. It has also boosted my credibility with my suppliers.

she said.

It looks as if Lilian will turn her business dreams into reality, thanks to the advice and support from Energy 4 Impact. Her sales have more than tripled in the last four months and she has diversified into rearing chicks in a shed illuminated by solar energy and retailing improved charcoal cookstoves. She still hopes to open a shop selling solar products and to expand her business into the supply of solar water pumping and water heating systems to schools, health facilities and hotels.