Off-Grid Solar Social Enterprises Respond to COVID-19 in Kenya & Zambia

Under the Global LEAP Awards Solar E-Waste Challenge, as Efficiency for Access Coalition Co-Secretariat CLASP has been working closely with Grantee companies across sub-Saharan Africa as they adapt operations to help vulnerable off-grid consumers navigate the COVID 19 Pandemic.

Hannah Blair, Monica Wambui

Under the Global LEAP Awards Solar E-Waste Challenge, as Efficiency for Access Coalition Co-Secretariat CLASP has been working closely with Grantee companies across sub-Saharan Africa as they adapt operations to help vulnerable off-grid consumers navigate the COVID 19 Pandemic. Two social enterprises in Kenya and Zambia are at the frontline, ensuring that their consumers continue to have access to energy, safe water and essential health services.

Adapting to COVID-19

The governments of Kenya and Zambia have implemented measures to protect citizens and slow the spread of COVID-19. In both countries, strict lockdowns and school closures began in late March. Local organizations and companies have played an important role in supporting communities with essential health and energy services.

To comply with the guidelines recommended by global and national regulators in response to the pandemic, Solar E-Waste Challenge Grantees are adjusting and augmenting operations. In Zambia and Western Kenya SunnyMoney and WeTu are providing essential services to their communities.

SunnyMoney Lights Health Facilities

In Zambia, almost 70% of the population lives off-grid and persistent load-shedding leaves even electrified areas in the dark for hours every week. SunnyMoney is building a sustainable solar market across the country through the distribution of pico-solar lights and solar home systems.

Health workers in Zambia using a SunnyMoney solar light

In response to the pandemic, SunnyMoney has partnered with the Ministry of Health to address two of Zambia’s biggest public health challenges: poor electrification of health facilities and lack of definitive information about the virus. They have donated solar lights to health facilities without reliable electricity. Many of these solar lights also come with phone charging capabilities for the Ministry to use at border-post quarantine centers and testing sites.

Although the Ministry of Health has been sensitizing communities on protections against the virus, 56% of the population lives in rural areas where information dissemination can be difficult. Without access to radios or televisions, communities rely on word of mouth, which can quickly spread false information on the virus. SunnyMoney is utilizing their network of dispersed, community-integrated agents to call and text customers accurate information.

“Our staff are using the local language in order to ensure that information is disseminated correctly and that social distancing, hand washing and good hygiene is understood to decrease the risk of infection and the spread of the virus,” explained Karla Kanyanga, Operations Director at SunnyMoney.

WeTu Bolsters Community Health in Western Kenya

In Kenya’s Lake Victoria region, only 35 percent of the population has access to clean drinking water and 20 percent is connected to a central power grid. WeTu provides innovative solutions for energy, safe drinking water and e-mobility to communities around the lake.

WeTu water ATM. Photo credit: Tillman Straub.

WeTu also partnered with the Ministry of Public Health and Community Health Volunteers to support response to the pandemic in three counties. Their coronavirus campaign is using flyers and posters to sensitize the community on hygienic behavior, correct “fake news,” and dispel rumors circulating about the virus in the local Luo language.

“We equipped our WeTu Hubs with handwashing facilities, soaps, sanitizers, and masks to ensure the safety of our employees and clients. We also opened up an additional water hub to increase access to clean drinking water in our communities,” outlined Stephen Agola, Operations Manager.

WeTu supports a crucial part of the local economy by providing lanterns that are customized for night fishing and serve as an environmentally friendly alternative to lead-acid batteries. The lanterns are leased, maintained and recharged with solar energy at the hubs and collected at e-waste collection points in the hubs at the end of their lifecycle. Find out more about WeTu in their Project Spotlight.

The Off-Grid Solar Sector Supports Community Resilience

Access to energy is at the core of building resilient communities. Off-grid solar companies provide energy services that enable households to remain connected and informed, support economic activity and bolster health. In times of crises, clean energy access companies are uniquely positioned to reach vulnerable, off-grid customers and provide them with critical information and support.

CLASP has joined many of our partners and endorsed a letter calling on all donors, foundations and philanthropies to quickly mobilize to provide relief funding for the energy access sector—this is critical to safeguard the collective progress we have made towards sustainable, clean and reliable energy for all.

Global LEAP E-Waste Challenge Update

While COVID-19 has disrupted the operations of off-grid solar companies, the Global LEAP Awards team and Grantees are finding innovative ways to continue their work and share insights from the Challenge projects. In May, under Efficiency for Access, CLASP and EEP Africa co-hosted a Webinar on Solar E-Waste Management Innovations in Sub-Saharan Africa that highlighted the Grantee projects and market trends across the industry.

Global LEAP Awards is also profiling each of the Grantees through a Spotlight series on Medium. Check out our latest Spotlight on d.light’s innovative approach to take-back and collection in Kenya.


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