Hello everyone! You might have seen our posts about our latest initiative Zuwa Energy. In fact we spent most of October raising funds (succesfully) to buy our first batch of stock. So what is Zuwa and how does this fit in with our work at Empower Projects? Our Founder and Executive Director Shanil Samarakoon explains:
Q: So what is Zuwa Energy exactly?
A: It’s a social enterprise, based in Malawi, that sells Pay-As-You-Go Solar Household Systems. It’s mission is to help address the fact that only 10% of Malawi’s 16 million population has access to electricity. Zuwa’s solar products are innovative in that they allow customers to access high quality solar products without the prohibitive upfront cost. Thanks to the use of software from partners Angaza and the rising popularity of mobile money, Malawians are able to pay a 20% deposit and pay the balance incrementally over a 18-21 month period. If you ask me how long we’ve been developing the idea, i’d say 2 years, though its only in 2016 that we put our heads down to work towards a launch by the end of the year. You can check the short animation below for an overview of how this technology works.
Q: So how does Empower Projects fit into this? Will you be wrapping up or scaling down?
A: Empower Projects is the primary owner of Zuwa Energy, its incubator as it were. The purpose of Zuwa Energy is to provide Malawians with affordable access to high quality solar and we at Empower Projects are passionate about the concept of profit being a means to an end and not an end in itself. What this means is that by Empower Projects serving as the parent organisation, Zuwa Energy will be a profit for purpose company, using its profits to enhance solar access and contribute to community initiatives in Malawi. It will operate as a seperate entity with its own management team but ultimately be accountable to our board.
As for Empower Projects, we have no intention on winding or scaling down! Quite the contrary, we will continue to do what we do best and that’s to work alongside rural communities in Malawi (and Sri Lanka) to enable their aspirations for self-reliance. We are towards the end of our partnership with the Kapita region of Malawi (Dec 2016) and I’ll be in Malawi with our photographer Kelly Fisher and filmmaker Mickey Todiwala to document our impact on the ground. We can’t wait to share inspiring stories across the full breadth of the initiatives we’ve supported in this region of 38 villages – from community bankingand the establishent of a preschool to sustainable agriculture and solar lighting.
Our work in supporting the expansion of the Timbiri SACCO in Nkhata Bay continues and this project is set to expand to encompas other community development priorities across 2017. Our team will also be looking to expand into a new region in Malawi once our impact assessment in Kapita is complete.
Italso bears mentioning that we are currently looking to support the expansion of a community financial cooperative in Nothern Sri Lanka as well. Suffice to say, there’s plenty going on at Empower Projects in the midst of incubating Zuwa.
Q: So what’s on the horizon for Zuwa and what’s got you so excited?
We’ve ordered our first batch of stock and we’re expecting it to land in Malawi any day now! Meanwhile our modest marketing efforts online have yielded amazing results. We’ve got just under 20,000 views for our video, over 1,000 clicks to our website, 50+ messages and almost half of our first batch of 75 systems accounted for through preorders. This bodes well as our ability to attract financing for this business rides on our ability to demonstrate strong demand and repayment rates. Our hope is to sell our first batch by the end of the year and present our results to a few interested parties to help us finance subsequent waves of stock.
The strong demand upon launch isn’t surprising! As mentioned, Malawi has very low levels of access to electircity. Most of the population relies on poor quality sources of energy such as candles, kerosene lamps and torches. Interestingly, we’ve also registered strong interest in urban centres due to the highly unreliable supply from the national grid (up to 14 hour power cuts as of late). This is part of what we find incredibly exciting about the launch of Zuwa Energy, it is heartening to see that demand seems to be confirming our convictions. How can you not get excited about a product that is ethical and transformative? We have firsthand experience when it comesto how impactful solar lighting can be in rural conditions and we have every confidence that our solar household systems can be transformative. Particularly in communities that rely on expensive fossil fuel based energy sources such as kerosene for lighting.
Q: Anything you’d like to add?
A: We’d like to thank all our regular supporters and contributors to our recently concluded crowdfunding campaign for Zuwa. Your faith in us is humbling and we cannot wait to share our progress with you!