By Bunmi Obanawu
WakaWaka is a global social enterprise that develops and sells portable solar products for the more than a billion people living without access to electricity and the billions seeking renewable energy solutions. The name wakawaka means “shine bright” in Swahili. EcoNigeria caught up with the organization to hear more about this green innovation. Enjoy!
What sparked the idea to create something like wakawaka light?
The idea for the company stemmed from a trip to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup, where founders Maurits Groen and Camille van Gestel were struck by the lack of electricity access and safe lighting in the region.
Can you kindly tell us more about the mechanism of the device (how it works)?
Watch video above
For every WakaWaka purchased, a solar light is donated to a family living without access to electricity. How do you find the family in need?
Families, with on average three children, were reached via WakaWaka’s innovative pay-as-you-go model, via purchase and distribution of NGOs, and via direct sales to the end-customer (The Share the Sun Model).
How do they qualify to benefit from that initiative?
For the Share the Sun model, customers have the opportunity to donate a WakaWaka Light to the WakaWaka Foundation. The WakaWaka Foundation works together with multiple big NGO’s to make sure the WakaWakas arrive at their destination. Via our Share the Sun model we only donate lights to families affected by a humanitarian crisis.
How many families have you been able to impact over the years?
In just a few short years in existence, has had a tremendous impact on over 1 million people across the world, bringing them electricity and light via small-scale solar power systems. You can check out our impact here.
In 2014, you opened an office in Kigali, Rwanda and we are aware that you are also in Namibia – what other parts of Africa are you in?
Currently, we have an office in Kigali where our innovative pay-as-you-go model is brought to the market. Rwanda is a mountainous country where only 23% of households have access to light and power. Many families resort to the use of kerosene lanterns, candles or inefficient and expensive battery-powered torches, which come at a high cost to human health and pocketbook, and the environment. Even though Rwanda is rapidly developing, many live too remotely to be connected to the grid. WakaWaka and the abundant power of solar light and energy can help these families.
Our Virtual Grid pilot was carried out in three districts: Rulindo, Gicumbi and Kamonyi. Following a number of successful roadshows and market demonstrations, we are now working with over 40 dealers who have sold a total of 2,500 Virtual Grid units and 25,0000 scratch cards as of June (2015).
We don’t have an office in Namibia, but we do have several other projects in Africa, which you can check on the impact map.
Are there plans to expand your scope in Africa anytime soon?
We are eager to expand our scope in Africa and are currently working on it!
What is the initial reaction you encounter from people in remote areas when introducing WakaWaka light?
In some areas, it gets dark before 6 pm. Can you imagine living in pitch black, night after night? This is the reality for a lot of people, since they don’t have safe access to light and power. So people are really happy that with the WakaWaka they can work & study again in the evening.
One of the complaints plaguing solar power is the cost, how have you been able to address this challenge?
Everyone who has access to the grid has to pay a monthly fee. We calculated (and received feedback) that the people using our WakaWaka spend less on electricity and use the SUN to charge their devices. And lucky for us, the sun is sharing its energy for free.
Aside cost, what other challenges plague the solar business at the moment?
We just read an interesting article about challenges in the solar industry. Renewable Energy (and thus solar energy) is here—But Are Energy & Utilities Leaders Ready for the growth in this sector? You can read the article here: http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/articles/2016/08/renewable-energy-is-here-but-are-energy-utilities-leaders-ready.html
Can you share with us some of your most rewarding moments as an enterprise till date?
As a social enterprise determined to find ways to share the abundant power of the sun with the billions worldwide who don’t have the luxury of a light switch, we are immensely proud that we have helped bring light and power to more than 1,000,000 people living without access to electricity. One million women, men and children are living healthier, safer lives, and are more empowered to realize their potential.
In your opinion, what are the chances of solar power becoming a/the solution to many African cities’ electricity problems?
If we are looking at our own pay-as-you-go model, solar power is increasing in its popularity in Rwanda. Hopefully, this will also be the case in the rest of Africa.
What is your technology transfer mechanism? Are you passing on the knowledge of production to locals for sustainability?
Our team in Rwanda are actually people from Rwanda. Currently, we only share the technology behind the WakaWakas with our team. But we try to be as sustainable as possible. Therefore, we always try to work with local people.