Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere and has some of the lowest levels of electrification in the world. To address this massive shortfall in access to quality and reliable energy, Haitian Money Transfer company Sogexpress, has made a commitment to radically increase access to clean energy products.Read
The vehicle Sogexpress has chosen to achieve this goal is through its agent network, especially its street agents. To test the initial viability of this approach Sogexpress introduced a pilot to encourage 340 of its 1,000 street agents to sell solar lanterns. Sales were strong, but the test demonstrated a need for a source of supplier credit to finance the inventory the agents planned to sell.
Market research conducted by Arc Finance in 2014 indicated that the consignment model was the best financial mechanism for this pilot: as it lowers risk for the agents and Sogexpress as compared to a more formal loan product. Sogexpress was not prepared to bear the risk of handing over large amounts of inventory without some sort of guarantee, and the agents were uncomfortable borrowing money to purchase inventory for new, unfamiliar products and carry the risk until those products were sold.
So Sogexpress, with the assistance of Arc Finance, the IDB’s Multilateral Investment Fund and United States Agency for International Development (USAID), spent several months developing the consignment mechanisms, structure and policies. It also upgraded and adapted the Sogexpress IT and Management Information Systems to ensure they were fit for the purpose of tracking the credit and status of agents.
Towards the end of 2015, Sogexpress started implementation of its retail consignment program. The agents or shop retailers don’t have to purchase the products they sell. Instead, the company lends them its products on “consignment”, which allows Sogexpress to increase the working capital of its street retailers, diversify its portfolio, and expand its business and increase revenues.
A background check and selection process involving several steps mitigates the risk of lending. Firstly, Sogexpress’ démarcheurs (trusted senior agents) identify prospective street agents and recruit them. Next, store managers create and evaluate files on each potential agent. The store manager interviews selected candidates. The store manager registers the approved agents, and sends their files to the selection Committee. Once the Committee approves an agent’s application, the street agent signs a consent form. This form describes the agent’s commitment, duties and responsibilities in detail.
The new agent pays a 300 HTG (approximately US$5) deposit to a Sogexpress store manager to be enrolled in the consignment “Loyalty Program” and receives a special “loyalty card” as identification of membership. This program has various objectives, including: to track sales data and agents’ performance; to allow agents to accumulate loyalty points; and to track consignment portfolio quality, with an alert system in place to flag delinquencies or other problems.
After agents are registered, they are given a credit limit of 3,000 HTG (US$50), with which they can borrow energy products from the company (the value of approximately three solar products). Later, once the agent has demonstrated creditworthiness, he or she may receive a limit of up to 50,000 HTG (about US$900). Each new agent is given a kit that includes different models of solar lamps with a maximum value of 3,000 HTG (US$50), a branded backpack in which to carry the lamps, and flyers with descriptions of the products.
In order to support its new agents, Sogexpress provides marketing support through sound trucks and advertising. Training sessions based around product details and selling tactics further bolster the agents’ capacity to effectively engage with prospective customers.
As of August 31st 2016, Sogexpress has enrolled 561 agents in this program. In the summer of 2016, Sogexpress and Arc Finance conducted a first review of the pilot, collecting feedback and data to make the consignment process faster and easier. As the company moves forward, it is aiming to increase its efforts to retain active agents. Arc is helping Sogexpress to grow this program, and to reach its target of enrolling 1,000 agents by the end of the year – especially outside Port-au-Prince where the competition among energy companies is less intense. It is also in these rural areas where people are in the most need of reliable and safe lighting solutions, such as the solar lights for which this model is so well suited.
Dominique Policard, Executive Commercial Director at Sogexpress, foresees that:“This program has not only the advantage of facilitating access to clean energy but also of helping the street agents access financial services. Sogexpress is very proud of this new program and hopes to scale it in the future.”
For thirty years, the Sogebank Group, the parent company of Arc partner Sogexpress the leading money transfer and payment services company in Haiti, has been innovating in the banking market. From being an early mover with ATMs in the 1980s, to mobile banking this decade, the company has led the Haitian banking sector in improving the customer experience.
Yet, Haiti remains one of the most financially excluded markets in the hemisphere, with only 20 percent of Haitians having a bank account. To help address this, Sogebank has developed a new product called SogeIzi (pronounced Soge-EASY). SogeIzi is a savings model targeted at poor and rural Haitians. The target market includes street agents that sell solar lighting products on consignment with support made possible by technical assistance funded by the Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF), a member of the IDB Group, and USAID, and provided by Arc Finance.Read
Recognizing that like many other Haitians, many of these agents are financially excluded, Sogebank is offering them the possibility to save their income as well as make payments using a debit card (Izicash card). They will be able to use a range of locations within the broad Sogebank Group network (not just the brick-and-mortar Sogebank branches), including Sogexpress stores and ATMs. The clients benefitting from this program, including potentially many of Sogexpress’ solar agents, will be able to access a basic bank account, enabling them to save, earn interest and conduct transactions all over the country, in rural or urban areas, irrespective of whether there is a Sogebank branch nearby.
Simplicity is a hallmark of the program. Sogexpress believes it is important to make it as easy as possible for financially excluded customers to make financial transactions while keeping operating costs low. Accounts can be opened in 10 minutes, using a single identification document and a low initial deposit (HTG 300, or US$5). Customers are provided with a starter kit of an Izicash debit card, explanatory documentation, a PIN, transaction registration, and free enrolment in the Sogemobile (mobile bank account access) and other Sogebanking programs.
SogeIzi is particularly valuable for the agents selling solar lighting products under the program Arc has implemented with Sogexpress. The initiative helps to bring them into the formal financial sector with the associated advantages. It works in tandem with the consignment finance model, which provides solar products on credit to the agent. The extended opening hours of Sogexpress stores (including Saturdays, Sundays and holidays) compared to Sogebank branches is designed to accommodate the needs of clients such as agent entrepreneurs, as is the 24/7 access to their account and execution of transactions through ATMs, Sogebanking and Sogemobile.
As Dominique Policard, Executive Commercial Director at Sogexpress, describes it, this new product is timely, “enabling Sogexpress to take another step in supporting the network of sales agents to increase their livelihoods through financial access and by facilitating savings”. Policard says that the Sogebank Group wants to bring the financially excluded in Haiti into the financial sector, ensuring that even the very poor have access to basic and affordable financial services. This effort is particularly significant in Haiti, which is the poorest country in the hemisphere, with very low levels of financial access and literacy.
The agent consignment model launched by Sogexpress with the support of USAID, MIF/IDB and Arc Finance will benefit over 1,000 agents by the end of 2016. Hopefully many of these people will be able to benefit from the financial access and flexibility of this innovative new program. SogeIzi will be an important way to bring these entrepreneurs into the formal financial sector; enabling them to save, pay and transfer money safely, quickly and affordably as they build their businesses and bring quality clean energy to their customers.
We are delighted to announce that as of April 30th 2016, Arc’s USAID-funded Renewable Energy Microfinance and Microenterprise Program (REMMP) has passed the milestone of 200,000 sales of energy products. That equates to over 1 million people benefiting from clean energy in five countries – India, Uganda, Haiti, Kenya and Nepal.Read
The 200,000 customers – of which 67% are women – have received access to products such as solar lanterns, solar home systems (SHS) and efficient cookstoves under a range of consumer financing mechanisms which seek to bridge the affordability gap inherent in providing products like these to the poor. REMMP has also addressed distribution challenges posed by the “last mile” through promoting “supplier” financing mechanisms.
These financing mechanisms range from different microfinance loan models built and expanded under REMMP by Arc’s MFI partners, to asset finance offered by energy enterprises, remittances from migrants, and trade finance for agents conducting cash sales. Arc’s goal under REMMP remains to pilot, test, evaluate and scale different financing mechanisms for distributed renewable energy products (such as small-scale solar for off-grid households) and in doing so, pave the way for commercial scaling of this sector by demonstrating the viability of these models.
In order to facilitate sales, REMMP partners have disbursed over US$13 million in loans and over US$29 million in investment has been leveraged under the program. Over 37,000 tonnes CO2e has been displaced by the clean energy products sold and the equivalent of 2.1MW of solar capacity has been installed. A recent annual phone survey reveals 98% product satisfaction among clean energy customers, and 87% likelihood to recommend the product to friends or family.
After spending several years laying the groundwork through capacity building, partner and product evaluation, and all of the other critical steps to building local capacity – mostly from scratch – REMMP is seeing sales accelerating. In fact, the milestone of 100,000 clients reached was just passed in July 2015. REMMP expects even more rapid scaling in the coming months as the affordability gap for clean energy products continues to narrow through the hard work of our partner organizations.
SolarNow, one of Arc’s partners under the USAID-funded REMMP initiative, announced a new $2 million loan facility from SunFunder. SolarNow is a solar distributor in Uganda that makes solar affordable through a 24-month payment plan. Through this business model, they can ensure that high quality solar be available to low income households. SunFunder has designed a Structured Asset Finance Instrument (SAFI), which allows SolarNow to finance its fast-growing portfolio of payment plans in Uganda.Read
SunFunder began lending to SolarNow in 2013 with small, crowdfunded inventory loans. Through these initial loans, SolarNow established a repayment track record that helped enable SunFunder to unlock capital from accredited investors for larger and longer-term loans needed to match SolarNow’s growing working capital needs. In 2015, SunFunder extended facilities totaling over $800,000 of loans to SolarNow. The new SAFI facility builds on SolarNow’s strong track record in sourcing high-quality customers and extending credit on appropriately sized solar home systems based on customers’ energy needs and their ability to repay. The facility will scale SolarNow’s capacity to build and service such customers with contract terms in the future and multiply the positive impact SolarNow can make in the region.
“SunFunder has been a fantastic partner throughout this process,” said SolarNow’s Managing Director Willem Nolens. “With this financing in place, the board and management believe our business is now well placed to accelerate our growth in Uganda and beyond.”
“The launch of SAFI marks a new chapter in our long-standing relationship with a top-quality solar company,” said Audrey Desiderato, SunFunder’s Co-Founder and COO. “Starting with small crowdfunded inventory loans in 2013, we provided larger working capital facilities funded through our Solar Empowerment Fund. The launch of SAFI marks a next step in our relationship and aims to efficiently deliver scale. We are proud to announce this market-leading transaction with SolarNow and play an important role in their continued success in the market.”
SolarNow offers a range of high-quality solar home systems and electrical appliances that are designed to fit the needs of rural households and entrepreneurs. Their solar home systems range 50 to 5,000 watts and because the systems are modular, customers can easily upgrade existing their systems to increase their system’s power capacity over time. The company offers a wide range of electrical appliances, including high quality LED lights, televisions, fridges, water pumps and flat irons. Through their network of 36 branches in Uganda and by extending appropriate credit to their customers for up to 24 months, SolarNow makes solar accessible and affordable for rural, low-income households and businesses. The company already installed over 10,000 solar systems in Uganda since 2011. These clients benefit from 5 years free service.
Press contact: Mr. John Kizito, Group Controller (email@example.com, tel. 0788 916 641)
SunFunder is a solar energy finance business with a mission to unlock capital for solar energy in emerging markets, where over 2 billion people live without access to reliable energy. SunFunder offers short-term inventory loans, working capital facilities and structured finance facilities to residential and commercial solar companies with a proven track record for quality and growth. SunFunder raises the capital for its loans through private debt offerings that give accredited investors an opportunity to invest in a diversified, vetted, and high impact portfolio of solar loans. The company aims to raise and deploy $1 billion into solar projects around the world by 2020.
Press contact: Mr. David Battley, Director of Structured Finance (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Dominique Policard, Executive Commercial Director at Arc’s partner Societe Generale Haitienne de Transferts S.A (or ‘Sogexpress’), appeared Tuesday April 14th in a Miami television interview. The program, Teleskopi, was hosted by Gepsie Metellus, and was broadcast on Island TV, a channel targeted at the Haitian diaspora community in the U.S. Dominique talked about the Klere Ayiti initiative (Haitian Creole for “Light up Haiti”) which is an online platform that allows diaspora members to remit solar products back to families in Haiti, using the existing remittance network and architecture of Sogexpress in Haiti, and the Quick PaySM payment service of Western Union.Read
Dominique demonstrated four solar products on the remittance platform ranging in price from $55 to $180, described the options, price configurations and benefits of each, and explained the payment process. She described how a customer in the diaspora can place an order on www.klereayiti.com and then pay for the product at any participating Western Union using Quick PaySM services.
The focus of the interview was on the extensive benefits to customers in terms of education, health, security and livelihoods that have been tested and demonstrated over the course of Arc’s engagement with Sogexpress. The Klere Ayiti platform enables the Haitian diaspora to use remittances to finance renewable energy products for families and friends in Haiti, where a large majority of the population does not have access to electricity.
The platform features a dedicated website that allows diaspora-based customers to pre-order the solar light kit of their choice at www.klereayiti.com. They select the product and then use their order number to complete payment at participating Western Union Agent locations via the Western Union® Quick PaySM platform (present in over 174 countries around the world). Orders are fulfilled by Sogexpress in 3 to 5 working days.
All the products for sale have the capacity to recharge mobile phones, a highly desirable feature in Haiti, and were carefully selected by the Sogexpress team with the help of Arc Finance. All products come with a warranty by local distributors in Haiti.
The Klere Ayiti platform was launched in late July 2015 in Port-au-Prince and Miami. It was the culmination of many months of preparation and hard work by the Sogexpress and Western Union teams, and was made possible with support from the USAID-funded Renewable Energy Microfinance and Microenterprise Program (REMMP) and the Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF) of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
Here at Arc, we’re delighted to see this program reaching the Haitian community in the U.S., and look forward to working with all the partners to increase clean lighting access in Haiti.
Lack of access to affordable finance perpetuates global energy poverty. It limits both the supply and demand for energy products that improve people’s health, education, incomes and security. When energy companies that try to bring these products to consumers cannot get the capital to develop and commercialize new technologies, or in-house credit facilities, innovation is stifled.Read
When regional distributors, networks, retailers and agents cannot purchase inventory because they don’t have the working capital they need, the supply chain cannot function. And if banks or MFIs don’t offer appropriate finance, improved energy products remain out of reach of those who need them most.
What we see here is not one deficit, but a series of deficits. What they have in common is a shortfall of various capital coming into an industry in which demand is massive – and growing. To address these deficits, new ‘crowdfunding’ models provide alternative means by which energy suppliers and consumers can access the finance they need, beyond the traditional triumvirate of donor/grant support, debt, and equity investments. Raising money in small amounts from the public – the ‘crowd’ – isn’t new: charities and religious entities have been doing it for centuries. But crowdfunding via online platforms involving a pool of funders that is potentially global in scope for high social impact purposes in developing nations is definitely something new and different, and potentially game-changing.
What is the “Crowd,” and What Is It Funding?
In general terms, “crowdfunding” describes the practice of raising funds in small increments from large numbers of non-institutional sources. Typically, activity is mediated via an online platform and promoted through social media. While a handful of popular crowdfunding websites such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo and RocketHub continue to maintain market share and command considerable brand recognition, hundreds of other platforms occupy an increasingly segmented, specialized and competitive online marketplace through which over US$5 billion had been raised as of last year.
Crowdfunding’s appeal is its potential to unlock new sources of funds for purposes that conventional sources of investment and charitable giving are generally unwilling or ill-equipped to support, or even incapable of identifying in the first place. However, in addition to realizing greater funding availability, crowdfunding usually offers important cost and flexibility advantages as well. Funds sourced through platforms from informal networks of personal contacts (“friends and family”), shared interest communities and consumers are typically less expensive and impose fewer demands and expectations on fund-seekers compared to conventional private, public or charitable sources.
Crowdfunding in Practice
For this reason, crowdfunding has gained interest in providing low-cost, high-quality energy services to the world’s Energy Poor. Indigogo, based in San Francisco, is one of the world’s leading commercial crowdfunding platforms. Since launching in 2008, over US$100 million has been raised through Indiegogo’s website for over 275,000 campaigns in over 200 different countries. Indiegogo is a for-profit, private company that generates revenue by charging a fee to users of its platform. Fees are based on the amount of funds that users raise. While many campaigns support creative/artistic projects and new commercial technologies and products, the platform has also become a popular choice for social enterprises, non-profits and charitable campaigns that are explicitly focused on affecting positive social outcomes. Indiegogo places virtually no restrictions on who can raise funds and for what purpose, provided that the campaign initiator has a bank account and that the intended funding objective does not break any laws.
Campaigns that reach their goal pay a fee equal to four percent of the total amount raised, whereas campaigns that do not reach their goal are charged a nine percent fee. Indiegogo charges no entry or membership fees to use its platform, and campaigners only pay the company if and when they raise money. Campaigners are required to make some investments, such as a short campaign video. However, the scale of investment in both time and money are entirely up to the campaigner.
The company’s business model means the incentives of the company and the campaign are aligned: it has a direct stake in helping members reach their goals. It incentivizes success by increasing the visibility and audience of campaigns that register the highest level of funding activity. Indiegogo’s proprietary algorithm, “Gogofactor,” measures funding activity and elevates successful campaigns to featured spots on the homepage, increasing passive exposure by site visitors. In addition, various tools, tips and suggestions for success based on best practices can be found and accessed for free on Indiegogo.com.
Kiva is by far the best-known philanthropic P2P crowdfunder. Set up in 2005, it was created to enable individuals to lend mwww.kiva.orgividual micro-entrepreneurs via its website. Kiva partners with MFIs, community-based organizations and private companies to facilitate the provision of loans to individuals or small groups of borrowers. The borrowers repay the partner, which repays Kiva, which repays the lender. While the lender is lending at zero interest, the vast majority of loans are then recycled and kept in the system. In this sense, these small loans are de facto donations. As of last year, over one million online lenders had lent over US$691 million to 1.2 million borrowers. It works with 297 different field partner organizations and businesses in 86 countries worldwide.
One aspect of Kiva’s model which distinguishes it is the low risk aversion of its lenders, which allows it to experiment more than a commercial lender can, and this is allowing a steady diversification of its lending activities beyond conventional finance for micro-entrepreneurship to include consumer and SME finance, and its “Kiva Labs” initiative, which allows more rapid testing of new ideas, with lower due diligence requirements: the ‘testing’ is a form of due diligence itself, according to Kiva.
In response to demand from field partners, Kiva has also expanded into several new, high-social-impact verticals. In 2011, the term “Green Loans” was coined to describe diverse forms of Kiva lending that support both entrepreneurial and consumer investments that result in positive environmental impacts. Renewable energy and energy efficiency loans have emerged as an important segment within this new and growing category of Kiva lending. So far, Kiva’s green borrowers have received loans to finance energy efficiency upgrades and the installation of low emissions cook stoves at home (Mongolia); the purchase of domestic solar hot water heating systems (Palestine); and investments in biomass digesters that convert agricultural waste into both clean cooking fuel and organic fertilizer (Mexico).
Another lending platform is Milaap, an Arc Finance partner based in Bangalore. Founded in 2010 by three entre¬preneurs from the microfinance, off-grid lighting and mobile technology fields, Milaap raises loan capital for Indian microfinance institutions (MFIs) engaged in specifically energy, education, clean water access and other forms of essential service lending. By channeling low-cost, flexible loan capital from both online and offline lenders to a select group of MFI field partners, Milaap aims to overcome critical cost barriers that keep such services out of reach for millions of low-income Indian businesses and households. Milaap’s broader mission is to demonstrate the viability of essential services lending to the wider Indian microfinance sector and its commercial funders.
By early 2015, Milaap had raised and channeled over US$4 million into a diverse portfolio of over 26,000 loans, impacting the lives of over 100,000 people, while maintaining a 100 percent repayment rate from field partners – figures which have further grown in the year since. Funds are raised from an increasingly global crowd of lenders and disbursed to borrowers across ten Indian states through a network of 15 different field partners. The company’s energy portfolio continues to advance through its active partnerships with three microfinance institutions based, respectively, in the states of Orissa, West Bengal and Manipur. Due to the comparatively small size of loans for clean energy products such as solar portable lanterns and improved cook stoves, energy represents only ten percent of Milaap’s total portfolio. However, with over 2,000 borrowers financed to date, energy accounts for nearly one quarter of all loans disbursed.
Milaap’s “retail lending” model shares much in common with Kiva’s peer-to-peer approach. Milaap also works through a growing network of field partners that includes non-profit, community-based microfinance organizations as well as private companies. One hundred percent of funds provided by lenders goes towards borrowers, and, like Kiva, Milaap sees very high rates of relending, enabling the company to continuously revolve funds.
However, there are important differences. Milaap is a private social enterprise that operates on a for-profit basis. The company generates revenue by applying a small interest fee (typically five to eight percent) to field partners that receive and disburse the credit that it provides. Unlike Kiva, Milaap is exclusively focused on India, at least at present. And while Kiva’s energy-access lending can be seen as part of a broader portfolio diversification that occurred organically over time, energy lending has been a core part of Milaap’s vision since the company’s inception. Indeed, Milaap was launched for the explicit purpose of providing capital for unconventional “essential service” loans, such as energy lending, that mainstream commercial institutions and wholesale capital providers commonly view as high risk and therefore tend to eschew.
Milaap capital is flexible because the company does not dictate to field partners either the interest rates or terms that it must offer to its clients. This can translate into a variety of different benefits for partners and borrowers: loans can be structured in different ways to increase affordability, and thus bolster demand, as well as the ability to pay, among borrowers.
A final example of an online platform being used to fund renewable energy is SunFunder – a US-based private solar financing company that sources low-cost, short-term debt for solar companies operating in off-grid, emerging markets. To date, the company has maintained a focus on East Africa and has recently expanded to India. In contrast to Milaap and Kiva, which focus on providing loans to end-users and energy micro-entrepreneurs, SunFunder aims to meet the comparatively larger working capital and project finance requirements of established solar SMEs. Its website is designed to simplify the process of project review, selection and oversight, and to be as simple as possible for lenders as well, allowing credit card or Paypal-based payments. The minimum investment that lenders can make is US$10, and the maximum is whatever amount remains unfunded. Like both Kiva and Milaap, lenders are repaid on a monthly or quarterly basis.
SunFunder is still a start-up, but in the long run, it aspires to secure capital for off-grid solar companies through a variety of different means, and has deployed crowdfunding as a means of rapidly entering the space, and to demonstrate the bankability of off-grid solar companies to a wider field of lenders and investors. In this sense, SunFunder uses crowdfunding as a strategic bridge to larger sources of investment. One SunFunder loan recipient is the solar lantern distributor SunnyMoney, which, with more than one million units in sales, is the most prolific distributor of retail solar products in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Sunfunder’s mission is to ensure better debt funding through crowdfunding and also directly from private investors: SunFunder blends funds raised from its online platform with capital that it raises from accredited and institutional investors in the form of Solar Empowerment Notes (SENs) – a debt instrument that, unlike funds raised through the crowd, offer a financial return. SunFunder closed its first issuance SENs in September 2013, raising US$250,000 from four separate investors.
SunFunder generates revenue by charging a one-time capital sourcing fee to all borrowers and nine percent to 15 percent interest on all funds disbursed. Unlike Kiva and Milaap, the company does view the ultimate prospect of sharing profits with its network of lenders as a long-term goal, once regulatory reforms permit. SunFunder currently does, however, enable lenders to direct the reinvestment of interest gained to subsequent borrowers through its impact point program. In short, impact points represent small amounts of interest that are repaid with principal to the lender; while that interest cannot be withdrawn by lenders, it can be added to additional investments made by the lender.
Crowdfunding is unlikely to ever solve, alone, the demand for low-cost capital in the small-scale energy finance sector. It requires an investment in time and effort – far beyond putting a campaign or some beneficiaries on a website. Further, campaigns must be focused in order to succeed.
The focus of campaigns is critical to success, with a specific product orientation and if possible, rewards for lenders. If this is done, the benefits of crowdfunding can extend beyond capital to include valuable promotional and marketing benefits. By nature, crowdfunding is audience-driven and the ability of fundraisers to clearly and persuasively articulate and promote their ideas and products to large numbers of people drives success. So increased exposure to companies, projects, products and ideas can bring future customers, investors and media attention that can be leveraged further than small donations or loans alone. And if one thing is clear, it’s that bringing to a global audience the nature of energy poverty and the exciting affordable solutions to it which now exist, can be an important part of the expansion phase this sector is now in.
Boond, a friend and ally of Arc Finance and a social enterprise organization expanding alternative energy in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and other northern states of India, was recently invited to join Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in San Francisco as he gave a speech highlighting innovative Indian start-ups that focus on clean energy and technology.Read
The Prime Minister addressed entrepreneurs and technology leaders in Silicon Valley as part of the day-long event promoting the “India-US Startup Konnect 2015,” a program to promote and further develop the strengths of India’s start-up ecosystem and encourage Indian-US collaboration. Organizers Nasscom and the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad’s Centre for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship (CIIE) nominated Boond for this significant honor. Simpa Networks, an Arc partner under the Renewable Energy and Microfinance Microenterprise Program (REMMP), has also been in the news this week, winning the WWF Climate Solvers and Savers award by WWF India in Delhi. Simpa is a pioneer in enabling thousands of Indians to access affordable clean energy through a proprietary pay-as-you-go model called “Progressive Purchase,” and was one of two winners in the Energy Access category, recognized for its innovative business model by a diverse group of government officials and public sector stakeholders. After winning the award, Simpa was congratulated by Shri Prakash Javadekar, the Indian Minister of Environment, Forest & Climate Change, in a video message conveyed during the award ceremony. We’d like to congratulate both of these remarkable organizations for their recent successes, and fast-growing international reputations. They represent just a small glimpse of the innovation and entrepreneurship underway in the Indian clean energy space today.
We are excited to announce that two videos featuring Arc Finance partners have been selected as among the top four finalists for the Off-Grid Experts Awards 2015 – organized by Phaesun and taking place in Memmingen, Germany September 25 to 26. Over the course of the Off-Grid Experts Workshop 2015, all top four films will be shown to workshop visitors, who will vote on the winner at the event. Both videos are finalists in the “Filmlet-Energy Independence” category.Read
Arc Finance’s profile of microfinance institution Utkarsh’s solar lending program, “Utkarsh Brings Light to Uttar Pradesh, India,” was shot by our photographer and videographer Souradeep Ghosh, and was produced as part of our Renewable Energy Microfinance and Microenterprise Program (REMMP), which is funded by USAID. “Remittances and Solar Energy,” our profile of Haitian money transfer org Sogexpress’ remittance and energy program, is a result of a public-private partnership between Arc Finance, Sogexpress and the Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF) of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and the filmlet was funded by the MIF/IDB. The video highlights the key innovation of using remittance corridors to finance clean energy products.
We are delighted for Utkarsh, Sogexpress and all the other entities involved in the production of these two informative, elegant and warm films, which show the impact that small-scale clean energy can have on people’s lives.
We congratulate all finalists in all categories, and send our thanks to our digital media team, our partners, and the talented Souradeep Ghosh for all their work in getting us this far!
This series of four videos captures a full-day 2015 workshop entitled “Innovations in Financing: The Nexus Between Energy, Distribution And Finance.” Organized by Arc Finance in conjunction with USAID, the day featured stakeholders from across the sector discussing the latest innovations in consumer and institutional finance for providing small-scale clean energy access to the poor.
Watch our video series. ►
Arc Finance and Sogexpress launch KlereAyiti.com, a new platform for financing clean energy in Haiti through remittances.
Arc’s partner the Societe Generale Haitienne de Transferts S.A (Sogexpress), a leading money transfer and payment service company in Haiti, and the Western Union Company, a leader in global payment services, have launched a new platform called Klere Ayiti, Haitian Creole for “Light up Haiti.” This platform enables the Haitian diaspora to use remittances to finance renewable energy products for families and friends in Haiti, where a large majority of the population does not have access to electricity. This collaboration expands on a pilot implemented from 2012 to 2013 by Arc Finance with support from the Multilateral Investment Fund, a part of the Inter-American Development Bank Group (MIF/IDB).Read
The platform features a dedicated website that allows local customers and senders living abroad to pre-order the solar light kit of their choice at www.KlereAyiti.com. They then use their order number to complete payment at participating Western Union Agent locations around the world via the Western Union® Quick PaySM platform (present in over 174 countries around the world). Orders will be fulfilled by Sogexpress in 3-5 working days.
This platform was launched in late July 2015 in Port au Prince and Miami, the culmination of many months of preparation and hard work by the Sogexpress and Western Union. The process involved market research, product selection, website construction, adaptation and development of IT and web platforms, marketing and promotion. The platform will provide an enormous opportunity for innovation in using an established remittance corridor to finance renewable energy in the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.
Only 28% of the Haitian population has access to grid electricity , and the 2010 earthquake was devastating in both human and economic capital. The country receives a considerable percentage of its GDP in remittances (over 20 percent of GDP ), with a huge diaspora population living in the US – about 420,000 Haitians live in the New York area alone. Thus, Haiti was an idea choice to test remittances as an end-user financing and distribution mechanism in the 2012-13 pilot phase, and the success of that program has led to its current expansion stage.
The results of the pilot phase were encouraging, and led to a joint venture between USAID and the IDB’s Multilateral Investment Fund to fund Phase III, which will, after months of careful review, provide the Sundaya T-Lite for purchase exclusively at Sogexpress e-commerce site at KlereAyiti.com. The T-Lite is a modular solar light kits, available as a kit with two or three lights, will be sold for US$140 and $180.
Both systems have the capacity to recharge mobile phones, a highly desirable feature in Haiti. Awango by Total, an initiative of the company Total to market affordable solar lamps in developing countries, is committed to bringing only the highest quality products to Sogexpress customers and backs this assurance with a two-year warranty. The selected systems have been sold in more than 16 countries, with total sales exceeding 600,000 units.
Already, training delivered by Sogexpress, Awango by Total, and Arc Finance in February 2015 has increased the capacity of Sogexpress sales staff to effectively market, sell, and service the Sundaya T-Lite products that will be sold through the remittance platform.
Staff from all 57 Sogexpress stores were trained on the Sundaya products to ensure the staff had optimum knowledge of the lamps’ features, use, and after-sales service, through ongoing training throughout the course of the program, recognizing the importance of client satisfaction in the success of this initiative.
This exciting new program will target 5,000 sales across the remittance platform, with marketing reaching 300,000 existing remittance senders in the Diaspora and 500,000 recipients in Haiti through an awareness-building campaign, which will use energy literacy and promotional programs to educate Haitians both at home and in the diaspora on the economic and social benefits of switching to clean energy products.
Solar finance startup SunFunder, an investor in Arc Finance partner SolarNow based in Uganda, has closed a US$2.5 million Series A funding round, a milestone for investment in off-grid, small-scale solar. Alongside support from Khosla Impact and Better Ventures, SunFunder secured funding from Schneider Electric, a major multinational player in energy products and key investor in Arc partner Simpa Networks, which manufacturers and distributes solar home systems with a proprietary metering system in Uttar Pradhesh, India.Read
Schneider’s involvement is a boon for SunFunder in particular and for small-scale energy finance in general. The role that both have played in working with Arc Finance partners makes this deal something Arc Finance is proud to highlight.
Based in San Francisco and Tanzania, SunFunder provides short-term working capital and project finance loans for solar home systems, microgrids and commercial solar projects in emerging markets. The company raises debt capital through the Solar Empowerment Fund, offering accredited investors a risk-reduced, fixed-income investment opportunity in diverse portfolios of high-impact solar loans across multiple countries and solar technologies. The company is creating a solar finance ecosystem that aims to catalyze billions in financing for solar beyond the grid.
Schneider’s partnership in this venture is a true watershed. An energy giant that has operations in 100 countries and annual sales of US$30 billion in 2013, Schneider has products ranging from circuit breakers to power plants, distributed solar products to AC and DC microgrids. Its involvement is a sign that small-scale solar is moving beyond a niche market and into a mainstream, global one. For Schneider, financing will unlock working capital in order to finance distribution of its wide range of products. Schneider is working on launching its new US$80 million energy access fund with bilateral agencies like the U.K.’s DFID and the EU’s EIB to help unlock capital.
SunFunder, which has provided US$425,000 to Ugandan Arc partner SolarNow (an Arc case study of which can be found HERE) plans to raise and deploy US$100 million in the next three years into solar projects around the world and to expand its capacity in local markets, starting with East Africa. The IEA estimates that the world requires US$44 billion of investment to expand electricity infrastructure to achieve universal energy access by 2030. Of that US$44 billion, it is estimated that US$26 billion will be put towards toward decentralized systems that have been largely powered by renewable energy, according to SunFunder.
SunFunder’s platform for attracting capital to the small-scale, off-grid sector includes the Solar Empowerment Fund (SEF) – a debt facility that issues Solar Notes to accredited and institutional investors, offering a rare opportunity to invest in a diversified, vetted, and high-impact portfolio of off-grid and grid-deficit solar projects with an attractive risk/return profile. In Sept 2013, SunFunder closed its first issuance of Solar Notes, raising US$250,000 from four investors.
In addition, SunFunder is continuing to fundraise from accredited and institutional investors and from its crowdfunding platform, in which non-accredited investors anywhere can invest as little as US$10 in any of the projects listed on SunFunder.com (and is profiled in an Arc Finance briefing note on Crowdfunding, available HERE).
Once a project is fully funded, SunFunder facilitates low-cost financing to the solar partner to fund its implementation. As projects get repaid, investors earn their investment back (without interest, due to current regulatory limitations), which they can invest again or withdraw. SunFunder’s solar partners pay a modest interest rate on the financing that they receive, which is passed back to SunFunder’s investors as Impact Points, which can be reinvested into other projects. See Arc’s Briefing Note on Crowdfunding for a more detailed explanation of how this works.
Ryan Levinson, CEO of SunFunder, shares Arc’s view that access to reliable finance is the main barrier preventing solar energy providers from reaching scale and leapfrogging the grid in target markets. “In the last two years, SunFunder has established a solid track record and proven that the market is economically viable. This investment round will allow us to expand our capacity in local markets and substantially grow our loan portfolio,” he says. For more on Ryan’s thoughts, see Arc’s YouTube channel for a panel discussion video at Arc’s Innovations in Finance conference.
So far, SunFunder has financed more than US$1.7 million for solar projects, with 15 solar companies in six countries, and maintains a zero percent default rate, helping over 140,000 off-grid people in developing countries access affordable solar energy.
At Arc Finance, we’re proud to see SunFunder and Schneider, funders of two key Arc partner organizations, pass this key milestone. As this important and young sector attracts mainstream financing, it demonstrates to new investors that investing in renewable energy for off-grid customers is a sustainable commercial venture – and here to stay.
Simpa Networks, one of Arc Finance’s partners under the USAID-supported Renewable Energy Microfinance and Microenterprise Program (REMMP), has successfully raised $4M from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the U.S. Government’s development finance institution, and from GDF Suez, through their Rassembleurs d’Energies program.Read
With support from Arc Finance, which was Simpa’s very first investor, Simpa created a pay-as-you-go solar business model enabled by its proprietary metering technology. Simpa sells solar-as-a-service to energy-poor households and micro-enterprises in rural India. Simpa will use the new finance to expand its reach from a current base of 25,000 beneficiaries to up to 200,000. The scale of the future opportunity is considerable, as an estimated 400 million people in rural India still do not have access to an electricity grid.
As Paul Needham, Simpa’s President and Co-Founder, tells it, distributed solar-powered electricity systems are dramatically improving the quality of life for energy-poor families while promoting economic activity by enabling small businesses to extend their working days. This new debt investment – the first of its kind in India – will help Simpa scale its for-profit solution to the problem of energy poverty, and vindicates Simpa’s and Arc’s belief that clean electricity for rising rural India is an investible, scalable and sustainable proposition.
“Support from Arc Finance has been instrumental at several stages of our development,” said Paul Needham. “Arc Finance initially provided seed capital to help us pilot our solar-as-a-service model, and it was Arc Finance, under the REMMP program, that helped us improve our credit models and processes so we can scale up.”
Simpa operates in rural Uttar Pradesh, an Indian state with a severe power deficit. This unprecedented new debt facility will enable Simpa to reach hundreds of thousands of “energy poor” households with clean, reliable electricity services, in a business with high working-capital demands. Simpa’s tested model – a patented technology platform that integrates a meter into a complete solar home system and includes after-sales support – has already provided over 770,000 energy days equivalent, delivered over 65 MWh, created over 2,800 full and part time jobs in rural India, and saved over 75 tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions.
Simpa operates in India as Simpa Energy India, and has pioneered the solar-as-a-service business model. Simpa customers make a small initial payment for a solar electric system installed in their home or business. Customers then purchase “energy days” using a prepaid or pay-as-you-go mobile payment system. Upon completion of the contract, customers own their systems, affording them free, clean electricity for the rest of the system’s life.
Elizabeth Littlefield, OPIC’s President and CEO is a big supporter of what Simpa is trying to do. She has said that “The kind of technological leap Simpa and like-minded innovators are achieving proves that off-grid, clean energy in emerging markets is not merely viable, but a true opportunity both financially and environmentally.”
For GDF Suez, in Simpa there is an opportunity to help a growth-stage company scale up its impact to reach tens of thousands more people with affordable, clean, renewable electricity. Says Jérôme Broutin, CFO of the company’s Rassembleurs d’Energies program: “We invest in for-profit solutions that can scale to meet this challenge.”
We at Arc Finance are enormously proud of the growth and innovation at Simpa, which alongside several other partner organizations across India, Uganda and Haiti, is testing and demonstrating the viability of a variety of sustainable business models for solving affordability and distribution challenges in small-scale clean energy. We are thrilled that Simpa has been able to close this debt round, and look forward to working with Simpa as it passes many more milestones in the future.
Mahashakti Foundation (MSF) is one of Arc Finance’s partner organizations under the Renewable Energy Microfinance and Microenterprise Program (REMMP) funded by USAID. An NGO-MFI based in the Indian state of Odisha, MSF has, with Arc’s support, provided loans for efficient cookstoves and solar portable lighting under REMMP. In recent months, MSF has taken on a more ambitious program: connecting rural, off-grid villages to solar microgrids. Durmusi and Totaguda are two examples of how a partnership between the financial institution, investors, developers and the villages can connect households to reliable, clean and affordable lighting – providing significant and positive economic, social and environmental impact to these communities.Read
Durmusi village is situated in the Gopinathpur Gram Panchayat of Thuamul Rampur block of the Kalahandi district in Odisha. A largely tribal block, Thuamul Rampur is the poorest block in the district and lacks even the basic infrastructure of roads, water, communication and electricity. Illiteracy rates are high – 95% for men and 97% for women. Socio-economic and gender disparity rates are also among the highest in the country. Durmusi consists of 47 households, with 230 people. Most are small-scale farmers, people scavenging in the forest for produce to sell, and some daily wage workers. MSF is one of the few financial institutions or NGOs working in what is one of the least developed parts of India.
After promising results with sales on credit of efficient cookstoves and small-scale portable solar lighting, MSF with Arc’s support conducted a needs assessment of the area, concluding there was scope for installation of a solar microgrid. TERI New Delhi and Utkal Alumina Kashipnded supported the installation, and the microgrid is now operating in the center of Durmusi, with solar modular units allowing generation capacity to scale up easily to meet demand.
Demand has been considerable. Out of 47 households, 40 are connected through fixed wiring with two LED lights per house. Operation and maintenance costs are only INR 30 (USD $0.50) per month per household. Power is generated during the day, charging four battery banks, and consumed during the night. The whole system is controlled by a main switch, installed in one household – that of a designated Village Level Entrepreneur (VLE). The two LED lights were selected to provide superior lighting quality to kerosene – the previously dominant lighting source. A Users’ Committee has been formed, involving all active households, and a President and Secretary appointed to ensure smooth management of the grid.
When the grid was installed, the villagers requested that one grid node be used for a street light in the center of the village, which is the social focal point of Durmusi. This allowed villagers to meet in the evenings, and will enable them to celebrate local festivals all year round. As Sri Bagi Majhi, one of the village leaders, says: “The light brings our village together now.”
Totaguda is close to the block headquarter Kolanara, in Odisha’s Rayagada district, and includes 33 households with around 150 people. The Government of Odisha has launched a program called Biju Grama Jyoti, with the objective of supplying grid electricity to each household. However, Totaguda’s remoteness means there is no grid connection at all. Like the villagers in Durmusi, most residents depend upon income from agro-forestry, or have small plots of land, and rely on rainwater for irrigation. Infrastructure is virtually non-existent. There is no school, health center, nursing or veterinary facilities in the village. Totaguda villagers are entirely dependent on the villages of Khamasing and Kolnora for any medical, educational or other support. The only infrastructure or services of any kind is, again, MSF.
Totaguda was therefore a clear choice for a microgrid pilot project, because of the immense impact that regular, clean and inexpensive electricity would have on its residents. It was during a village borrowers’ meeting that one of MSF’s solar sales officers identified the issue of grid inaccessibility in the region, and raised the issue of switching Totaguda to a microgrid. Interest and enthusiasm only continued to increase after educational sessions informed the residents of the benefits and responsibilities involved.
After a needs assessment study by MSF, TERI New Delhi supported MSF with a CSR fund of from SBI in Mumbai. Out of 33 households, 32 are now connected to the microgrid, which is similar in design and capacity to the slightly larger one in Durmusi. As in Durmusi, there is a Villagers’ Committee, with a President and Secretary. A joint savings bank account has been opened in Mahashakti Primary cooperative in Rayagada in the name of the President and Secretary. The usage fees, (again, INR 30/month per household) are tied to previous monthly expenditure on kerosene.
Besides the intangible community benefits of having lighting at night, several villagers have expressed plans to use the after-dark lighting for income-generating activities, extending their potential working hours, as well as encouraging children who are in school to do homework after dark.
Roji Madangi, 29, is a typical Totagudan. As darkness falls, she scampers to wind up her daily evening chores. Like most other women in her village, she heads to her kitchen to prepare dinner long before dinnertime, because preparation and cleaning under the light of kerosene is almost impossible. Roji’s husband is a farmer and the sole breadwinner for the family, earning about INR 3,500 (US$56) per month, which isn’t enough to provide even two meals per day for everyone in the family. This is a typical story, but one which has dramatically changed since the installation of the microgrid. The microgrid lights the village for more than seven hours per night, meaning villagers can prepare food and eat after dark, spend less on kerosene, and work longer productive hours. At night, the women are now able to earn income for the household by stitching sal leaves together to form Kholi, a plate made out of leaves. Roji herself now earns more than INR 2,000 (US$33) per month – adding half again to her husband’s monthly household earnings.
“Before, we could not even imagine this freedom in our families,” she tells the Arc team. “Our rice production was barely enough to support us, yet now I feel more empowered because I contribute to the household by not only making food for us, but by earning too.” Roji adds, “I make 100 to 150 Kholi each day, which we sell at one rupee each, and we get enough money from our hard work to afford both plenty of food and to save.”
A village ward member, Sri Naria Mandangi, says that she has been encouraging her neighbors to start new income-generating activities and make use of the additional productive hours at night. With access to modern electricity, each household in this small settlement will have an inspirational story to share. At Arc Finance, we’re proud to see the results that our partner organization MSF is achieving, and look forward to sharing more of these stories in the months and years to come.
The Buksh Foundation is a young, up-and-coming microfinance institution based in Lahore, Pakistan. In 2010, the organization piloted a clean energy loan program to help business clients better cope with Pakistan’s escalating electricity crisis. In this episode, CEO Fiza Farhan discusses the MFI’s vision of expanding energy access, and the diverse activities – including product design – that it engages in to realize it.
€2 million equity investment lays groundwork for scaling renewable energy asset finance and distribution in East Africa
SolarNow, the Uganda-based solar asset finance company, has closed its most recent equity round, raising €2 million from Novastar Ventures and Acumen, to help meet massive demand for high-quality solar technology in East Africa.
Providing a range of modular 50-500 Watt solar home systems and DC appliances through a franchise model to mainly rural customers in Uganda, this investment will enable SolarNow to expand its branch network, further upgrade its Management Information System (MIS), and invest in R&D.
Willem Nolens, CEO of SolarNow, says that with this investment, SolarNow will focus on fulfilling the growing demands of its existing clients, expand to under-served areas of the country, and prepare for expansion into other East African markets in the medium term.
“Our business has high working capital demands. The more we sell the more money we need. We are buying the best components and selling them to low-income customers, with just a 20 percent deposit payment. However, this does mean a company like ours needs a steady and ready supply of capital, both to finance the systems before installments are complete, but of course also to plan for future expansion. Equity can stimulate further debt capital, and so this equity investment by two partners who share our vision, is so welcome. It will allow us to do what we are doing, better, and to do it with many more people.”
“We see Novastar Ventures and Acumen’s support as a great acknowledgment of our business model, and a shared assessment of the future plans we have. We’re not just a solar product company or a pay-as-you-go service provider; we are an asset finance and distribution company with a focus on renewable energy. Bringing together affordability and distribution with great products is what justifies this trust,” Nolens concludes.
Mauritius-based Novastar Ventures and US-based Acumen have invested €2,000,000, based on what they believe to be a great opportunity for scale into the region and product diversification.
Andrew Carruthers of Novastar Ventures said: “We are impressed by SolarNow’s well-developed distribution network as well as the quality of equipment and service they provide. They raise the bar for low-income customers in terms of affordability, reliability and service guarantees. We look forward to working with them to scale rapidly into this poorly served market.”
Duncan Onyango, East Africa Director at Acumen said: “We are excited about our investment in SolarNow, a company whose solar products clearly improve the lives of rural households in Uganda.”
A recent update has been published to a 2012 Case Study written by Arc Finance, which is supporting SolarNow under the USAID-funded Renewable Energy Microfinance and Microenterprise Program (REMMP). This case study update, which provides more information on SolarNow’s business model and strategy, can be found at Arc Knowledge.
Introductory remarks by Nicola Armacost of Arc Finance and Pam Baldinger of USAID to a full-day 2014 workshop entitled “Innovations in Financing: The Nexus Between Energy, Distribution And Finance.” Organized by Arc Finance in conjunction with USAID, the day featured stakeholders from across the sector discussing the latest innovations in consumer and institutional finance for providing small-scale clean energy access to the poor.
Arc’s REMMP India Partners meet for a full day of strategy building and knowledge sharing in Delhi
Financing Small Scale Off-Grid Clean Energy: Opportunities and Challenges for Arc’s Partners, a workshop in Delhi, India organized by Arc Finance in conjunction with USAID, brought together microfinance institutions (MFIs), energy enterprises, a crowdfunding platform, and an MFI apex funder for a day-long strategy session.
How can MFIs best work with energy companies to bring renewable energy (and finance for it) to remote communities? How can these organizations make sense of the growing market of renewable energy products available? How can the sector access the long-term, low-cost debt required to reach scale in a working capital-intensive industry? And how can Arc Finance continue to help its partner organizations and other institutional friends to move from idea to business model to pilot to scale? These were among the questions discussed in a workshop round-table format with twenty CEOs and managers from Arc’s REMMP partner organizations in India (representing almost a dozen organizations across several states in India) and the Arc Finance team.
Funding challenges and opportunities were arguably the key issue of the day, with Arc partners FWWB and Milaap.org leading the discussion about the challenges of accessing low-cost and longer-term debt finance. Over the past several months, Arc Finance has been undertaking stakeholder research on debt finance needs by MFIs specifically for energy lending. The findings show strong demand and interest for an energy specific debt facility for MFIs, and this was reinforced by Arc’s partners at the Delhi Meeting. All present agreed that the market is ready for innovative new financing initiatives to scale the sector.
Results-driven business model experimentation was also a particular theme of the day. The partners discussed their experiences and lessons-learned from experimenting with different business models. The willingness to experiment and adapt when things aren’t working is a characteristic of successful organizations in any sector; energy finance is no different, as Utkarsh, WSDS, Mahashakti Foundation and Grameen Koota demonstrated when sharing their experiences.
The partners then took a deeper look at different sales models, which are central to any organization’s energy finance business model. Should an organization retain mobile agents such as Village Level Entrepreneurs (VLEs) to carry and demonstrate products to potential customers? If so, should the VLE’s offer informal credit to customers who cannot afford to buy in cash? How does the institution get the products into the hands of agents – through micro-consignment, for example? With whom lies the responsibility for timely after sales service in the case of a defective product?
Several of Arc’s partners in India and other countries are exploring these options, identifying and adapting the right model for energy lending. DCBS (a small MFI in West Bengal) and Simpa Networks (a developer of proprietary metering technology for solar home systems which now uses a direct sales model) have both shown innovations in sales models – particular through agents. And while anecdotes are not evidence, sometimes one deserves a moment’s spotlight: the son of a DCBS client who received a loan for a solar lantern recently placed 44th out of more than a million candidates nationwide in tertiary entrance exams, something he attributes in large part to being able to study in the evenings thanks to his solar lamp.
How to transition from “push” products (supply-led) to “pull” products (demand-driven) was a dominant theme as well. The primary market barrier for energy products is lack of trust – particularly when government initiatives in the past have introduced poor quality products, hindering their reputation and making energy programs all the more difficult down the track. But as so many stakeholders know, energy clients very often become repeat energy clients – who increasingly “pull” new products as their trust and energy needs and appetites grow.
The final session of the day was interactive and more open. The participants were asked to articulate their visions and dreams for the small-scale renewable energy finance sector in the years to come. Beyond sales targets, what do they want the future to look like? Arc’s wide range of partner organizations had various aspirations, from product expansion to unlocking new sources of financing. But one common thread was the recognition that this sector is not just about providing lighting to off-grid communities. Rather, it’s about understanding and supporting the so-called “energy ladder,” or “escalator.” Partners are committed to providing broad solutions to help clients climb this ladder while increasing household economic productivity along the way.
The willingness of Arc’s partners to share information so freely is clear evidence that they see themselves all heading in the same direction and that ending “energy poverty” is a shared goal. This partners’ meeting built upon an Arc-workshop held in Manila last October in conjunction with the Microcredit Summit, and there is strong enthusiasm for this group to morph into a de facto network. Arc Finance provides a range of services to stakeholders, from Technical Assistance (which includes product identification, marketing, human resources, business model and sales support) to loan guarantees, catalytic grant funding and training. But core to its mission is being a “conduit” of sorts, a hub to develop new partnerships in small-scale energy finance. To this end, this partners’ meeting in Delhi was an exciting platform that Arc Finance was proud to organize, and from which the Indian sector can continue to grow.
Yara Akkari of Arc Finance tells an expert audience how Indian crowdfunder and Arc partner Milaap.org is bringing new financial channels to small-scale renewable energy sector
Arc Finance’s Remittance Specialist and East Africa Manager Yara Akkari was in Paris on June 17th to speak on a crowdfunding panel at the CrowdTuesday event – a regular platform that brings together various stakeholders in the crowdfunding industry at the local and regional level. CrowdTuesday is run by the European Crowdfunding Network (ECN), and organized by Alex Raguet, ECN’s French Ambassador.Read
Presenting in a panel discussion entitled Crowdfunding as Financing Mechanisms for Clean Energy, Yara demonstrated to her high-level audience how tapping the “crowd” provides much-needed capital opportunities for MFIs that aim for social benefits – namely, clean water, clean energy, education and sanitation.
“Crowdfunding enables MFIs to tap into new sources of funding: it fills the gap for essential-service lending by using financial resources sourced from large numbers of lenders – a form of ‘unconventional lending,’” she said, and then put its role in the context of financial services to the poor as they stand. Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) – several of which Arc partners with – “can play an important role in the removing the barriers to affordability in adopting new sustainable energy products.”
However, she argued, “The Indian microfinance sector has been slow to embrace energy lending as a mainstream practice. While a number of factors contribute to this situation, lack of access to affordable capital from conventional sources of debt and investment is a significant one. Milaap’s crowdfunding platform was developed to close this gap.”
Milaap.org is one of Arc’s partners under the USAID-supported Renewable Energy Microfinance and Microenterprise Program (REMMP), the goal of which is to “increase access of underserved populations to clean energy products in order to improve livelihoods and quality of life among these target recipients while minimizing climate-damaging emissions.”
With the support of USAID, Arc Finance launched REMMP in 2012 to test a range of business models that are designed to increase financial access to clean energy for poor people around the world. REMMP partner organizations include FWWB-I (an “apex” microfinance organization); Bandhan (by some measures the world’s largest MFI); Basix-IGS (within which Arc is “greenfielding” an energy-lending enterprise); Simpa Networks, which is pioneering metering technology for solar home systems; SolarNow, which provides an innovative in-house credit facility for solar systems to rural farmers in Uganda; Sogexpress, a money transfer organization in Haiti that, with Arc’s support, is using remittance channels to enable the diaspora to remit clean energy technology; and Milaap – a crowdfunding platform with a focus on using MFIs as a means to help people get clean energy products for their homes and businesses.
Crowdfunders that partner with MFIs to lend to microentrepreneurs are not new. Kiva.org was the first to reach scale doing this, and has lent over US$500 million dollars since 2005. Milaap is newer and much smaller, but is differentiated in its specific focus on water, energy, and education. Put another way, and as Milaap’s founders have put it at various Arc Finance events, microfinance is “a means to an end, not an end in itself.” Lenders coming to the platform are not lending to small businesses; they’re lending to help people access clean water, energy or education, and the livelihood and income development that comes with each.
Milaap (“connecting people” in Hindi and Urdu) was initiated in June 2010 by three young MBA graduate entrepreneurs who wanted to change people’s concept of giving by making it a personal, transparent and sustainable process. The end-borrowers on this platform are the deserving, working poor of India – students, small businesses, families – for whom a small amount of capital will significantly change their lives for the better.
One hundred percent of a lender’s funds go to the end-borrower for energy, water, sanitation or education purposes. Milaap charges its field partners a 5 percent fee on the funds raised, which currently covers a fraction of Milaap’s costs while it works towards achieving financial self-sufficiency. The shortfall until it reaches scale and when the fee is enough to break even is covered by investment from individual and institutional investors and donors.
It’s been a rapid learning curve, said Yara. By mid-2014, Milaap has raised and channeled nearly over US$1.5 million into a diverse portfolio of nearly 10,000 loans, impacting the lives of 50,000 people, while maintaining a 100 percent repayment rate from field partners. Funds are raised from an increasingly global crowd of lenders and disbursed to borrowers across ten Indian states through a network of 15 different current field partners. The company’s energy portfolio continues to advance through its active partnerships with three Arc-partnered MFIs based, respectively, in the states of Orissa, West Bengal and Manipur. Due to the comparatively small size of loans for clean energy products such as solar portable lanterns and improved cook stoves, energy represents only ten percent of Milaap’s total portfolio – but is increasing.
After taking the audience through the Milaap.org website, the loan-disbursal and repayment cycle (see figure), selected client profiles, and the filters that lenders can apply to direct their loans to specific regions, sectors or purposes, Yara gave a short profile of DCBS – a small MFI in Eastern India which is a sub-partner of Arc Finance under REMMP, and a beneficiary of Milaap’s crowdfunders.
DCBS is a small, community-based MFI that operates in 200 village communities in West Bengal. It has an active client base of 8,000 women borrowers. In December 2012, DCBS began promoting a new solar lantern loan product to existing clients (through a line of credit provided by Milaap, funded by the crowd), which is now expanding to non-clients.
As of mid-2014, DCBS’ solar lending program has a 100 percent repayment rate, has seen rapid portfolio growth and high penetration in the target communities, a consistent validation of this type of energy-lending as sustainable and commercially attractive, and early but positive social impact results. Other MFIs supported by Milaap and Arc Finance are also providing finance for a range of products, from clean cookstoves to multi-light and multi-appliance solar home systems.
Not everything has worked perfectly, of course. As Yara told the audience, there is always an element of trial and error in piloting new and innovative channels in order to demonstrate the commercial viability of a model for scale. Learning lessons along the way is important, and inevitable. Not all MFI partners have had the same success. Due diligence conducted by the crowdfunding platform to determine the capability (and, crucially, the dedication) of the MFI to introduce energy lending, is paramount. Finding the right field MFI partner is a necessary criterion for success.
What’s more, just providing MFI clients with access to credit for energy products isn’t enough either. Providing marketing support, client education, after-sales service, quality and appropriate products that are demand-driven, efficient “last mile” distribution, and appropriate pricing and financing options are all crucial. It is the role of the crowdfunder to assess – and where appropriate, assist – with these variables for success. It is this type of specialized technical assistance that Arc Finance has been providing to DCBS and other Milaap partners under REMMP.
Finally, Arc’s experience has been that training and awareness-raising are crucial elements which should be included as part of the clean energy program. Whether funding comes from donors, funds or in small increments from a crowdfunding platform like Milaap, and whatever the business and distribution model the MFI uses, a highly-engaged and informed staff, capable of talking to clients about their energy usage, costs and needs, is indispensable.
Yara finished with Q&A from the audience (which was particularly interested in product selection and warrantee challenges in remote communities). Arc looks forward to being invited back to further ECN events as it works with crowdfunding platforms to fill the working capital “gap” in pioneering small-scale, clean-energy finance.
The Ashden Conference and Awards gives organizations in the renewable energy space a chance to showcase and share innovations in sustainability with practitioners, investors, academics and the press. As in previous summers, Arc Finance participated in this year’s conference, alongside current and potential partners working on ways to bring affordable, clean energy to the BoP. The 2014 Ashden International Award finalists were winners in five categories: Financial Innovation; Avoided Deforestation; Clean Energy for Women and Girls; Energy for Agriculture; and Sustainable Buildings. Each of the winning organizations is working on a solution to the problems that are part of Arc Finance’s core mission, which includes helping scale the clean energy finance sector by shining a light on enterprises that are leading the way through innovation.Read
Infosys wins the Sustainable Buildings Award
One of India’s largest IT companies, with campuses at ten locations across the country and offices around the world, Infosys has been designing new, low-energy buildings and retrofitting existing buildings with the technology applied in new construction – decreasing electricity consumption per staff member by 44% across its Indian business campuses in the last five years.
Infosys has realized annual savings of US$200 per employee, and 39 percent of the company’s electricity is now generated or purchased from renewable sources. GHG emissions have been cut by 57 percent (or 210,000 tons per year), three quarters of which is from efficiency measures alone.
For true sustainability, improved efficiency has to make a “single bottom line” case – it can’t be just for environmental and social reasons. To this end, Infosys invested with the goal that the cost of retrofits would be paid back in energy savings within three years.
The company seizes every opportunity to reduce energy consumption, from reducing the size of chiller plants for air conditioning, to painting roofs white to reflect the heat. Cutting-edge design for new buildings also helps keep offices cooler and maximizes natural light. With US$80 million cut from its energy bills and targets of halving electricity use per employee and all electricity coming from renewables by 2018, Infosys has made the bottom-line case for large companies to invest in energy efficiency.
The Financial Innovation Award goes to Off.Grid:Electric
Off.Grid:Electric is a Tanzanian company that has emerged as a leader in the field of using mobile money to sell affordable pay-as-you-go solar power – of particular interest to Arc Finance, which works with different partners with various approaches to the affordability challenges of solar.
East Africa – countries like Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda (where Arc’s partner SolarNow is based, and is using a hire-purchase credit facility to provide a different affordability mechanism) – is an exciting “petri dish” of experiments in clean energy innovation. Mobile Money, through M-PESA, first reached scale in Kenya, and the model is now being replicated across several sub-Saharan countries. Leveraging mobile money infrastructure to allow poor customers to pay for clean energy in regular, small amounts is an opportunity that Off.Grid:Electric (among others) is capitalizing upon.
Off.Grid:Electric considers itself a service, more than a solar, company. The founders wanted to make solar electricity a mass-market option by focusing on exceptional customer service, including an all-day customer-care telephone line and ongoing support from a local agent. With more than 15,000 homes taking up Off.Grid’s service so far, benefitting 70,000 people, customers are being connected as fast as systems can be manufactured and distributed, thanks in part to a cloud-based customer registration process and product-tracking system app.
Off.Grid:Electric provides an agreed-upon level of electricity service through a five or ten Wp Solar Home System (SHS), including mobile phone charging, which is rented by the customer and installed after payment of a deposit of US$6 or $9. The entry-level model costs roughly US$0.20 per day (the top-end system costs about 63 cents per day) paid over a mobile money platform – with a minimum of one day’s purchase per transaction.
A network of local agents is used to find customers, install systems, and provide ongoing after-sales support. Custom smartphone apps keep customer data, usage, system and payment information integrated and accessible to agents. For the very few customers without a mobile phone, agents can take cash payments.
Crucially, the company prioritizes flexibility of payment for the customer, recognizing the cash-flow limitations typical of poor customers. Service level can be changed, and payment history builds a credit rating for the customer that can be used for other purchases. Off.Grid:Electric currently has about 90 staff – half of which are female – and a network of several hundred local agents. It is financed mainly through equity investment, supplemented by debt and grant funding.
Sustainable Green Fuel Enterprise wins Ashden’s Avoided Deforestation Award
Deforestation and its dire environmental consequences – air pollution, soil erosion and desertification – remain a critical problem in certain countries. Sustainable Green Fuel Enterprise, a Cambodian business turning leftover coconut shells and other bio waste into clean-burning char-briquettes for use as cooking fuel, was the winner of Ashden’s Avoided Deforestation Award.
Most Cambodians cook on wood charcoal, resulting in the world’s worst case of deforestation: the country lost 2.9 million hectares (14 percent of its total land area) in two decades (1990-2010). In addition, the negative health effects of burning wood charcoal, particularly indoors, are well known, and include eye and respiratory disease.
To reduce wood charcoal use, French NGO GERES had already introduced efficient charcoal stoves to the markets, and wanted to expand to tackle charcoal supply as well. In 2009, it partnered with a children’s charity to launch Sustainable Green Fuel Enterprise (SGFE).
Led by Carlo Figa Talamanca, SGFE can scarcely keep up with demand. SGFE produces the char from waste coconut shells (widely discarded and accessible) using low-emission TLUD kilns, and it also buys wood-char from electricity generators. The char is mixed with water and a binder and extruded into briquettes, which are then dried using the waste heat from the kilns.
To date, over 650 tons of char-briquettes have been produced, and production is accelerating. The 47 tons produced in March 2014 alone equals the cooking needs of 1,250 households. Each ton saves ten mature trees, so the equivalent of over 6,500 mature trees have been saved to date. GHG emissions have been cut on the order of 4,500 tons equivalent in 2013, all while introducing a superior product to the market at a cost – 34c/kg – similar to wood charcoal, and cheaper to use due to its reduced waste and uniformity of heating.
A more expensive product – the “diamond briquette,” made from 100 percent coconut shell char – costs double the regular briquette, but its slow and sustained burn has made it particularly popular with food vendors.
Production will double in 2014 thanks to a recent grant from the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (GACC), and further private investment will allow yet another doubling of production, according to SGFE’s team.
Greenway Grameen: winner of the Clean Energy for Women and Girls Award
The Clean Energy for Women and Girls Award was won by Indian cookstoves business Greenway Grameen, co-founded by two Indian women two years after completing their MBAs. Greenway’s mission is to provide an affordable, desirable cookstove to improve quality of life for Indian women – who along with their daughters in a male-dominated nation typically bear the lion’s share of household duties, with crippling repercussions on the health and education of the next generation of girls. Despite this, most rural households in India have mobile phones and televisions – so aspiration for consumer goods is alive and well; it’s just a man’s preserve. “The biggest women’s issue in India is men,” argued CEO Neha Juneja, to wide applause.
Collecting and cooking with wood and dung, as hundreds of millions of women are still forced to do, is time-consuming and horrifyingly harmful – indoor air pollution kills more people than diarrhea, malaria and HIV combined – and the majority of victims are women.
To address this, Greenway Grameen’s simple and stylish stoves dramatically reduce kitchen smoke, cook more quickly, and stay cleaner longer. Perhaps most significantly, their design was demand-led from the start; extensive market testing led to an iterative design process focused on women’s needs and aspirations. Marketed as the essential part of a modern kitchen, more than 120,000 stoves have been sold so far, benefitting over 600,000 people in Karnataka, Kerala and Maharashtra states. Two-thirds of the stoves, which retail for US$23, are financed through partnerships with MFIs.
Besides the obvious health benefits of reducing indoor air pollution and the reduction of GHG emissions (over 200,000 tons/year CO2e), considerable time is saved (on average, more than 30 minutes per meal), improving the lives of women and allowing daughters more time to study. But the economic argument is the “clincher”: a stove can pay itself back in 14 weeks through reduced expenditure on wood.
Greenway plans to continue its rapid expansion into other Indian states and then beyond into other markets, as well as introducing a broader range of products.
Proximity Designs wins the Energy for Agriculture Award
Finally, the Energy for Agriculture Award went to a fascinating and inspiring company in Myanmar, Proximity Designs, which is introducing treadle pumps, solar irrigation systems and other sustainable agriculture technologies to this recently-opened nation for the first time.
For rural farmers, lifting water from wells and carrying it across fields is backbreaking and time-consuming work. Until the 1990s, farmers in Myanmar had no access to energy for irrigation in the 20,000 villages that need 3,000 liters per day per small plot. To address this, Debbie Aung Din and husband Jim Taylor traveled to the country in 2004 to head the national program for international NGO iDE. In 2008, their program to introduce access to energy for irrigation morphed into Proximity Designs. Proximity Designs has introduced foot-operated treadle pumps that draw up water from wells and combined them with water-saving drip irrigation technology. Together, these can dramatically increase agricultural yields and incomes.
The results have been transformative. As of this year, 90,000 treadle pumps are in use in 5,000 villages, benefitting almost half a million people. The pumps were designed and manufactured locally, supporting the burgeoning economy, and two further models were introduced, capable of lifting water to raised storage units. The drip irrigation kits were also locally developed and manufactured, and their introduction allows the cultivation of higher-value crops such as eggplant, which require more water. These products are marketed and sold by a growing network of agents, as well as agro-dealers. Pumps range from $25-38, drip irrigation kits are $38, and tanks $25. Some customers pay cash, but many have availed themselves of the low-cash credit facility Proximity has offered in the absence of a mature microfinance market.
The return on these investments by farmers is considerable – with farm incomes increasing by an average of $250 per year. And Proximity Designs – which the Ashden panel described as “the first to bring energy to agriculture in Myanmar…adapting fast to the needs of the rapidly changing country,” is already working on a solar-powered pump, to be introduced in the near future.
Each of the Ashden International Award finalists addresses key challenges to bringing affordable clean energy to the mass market in poor countries. From leveraging technology such as mobile money, to helping farmers increase their yield, to working towards making tragic indoor air pollution deaths a thing of the past, or demonstrating that a global company with a vision can dramatically cut its energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions with some effort and investment, these companies are true pioneers. Arc Finance is proud to know them, and looks forward to continued partnerships with trailblazers in the sector.
Ugandan solar enterprise SolarNow uses a franchise distribution model for Solar Home Systems combined with an in-house credit facility to reach rural customers.
SolarNow is an energy enterprise in Uganda, and an Arc Finance partner under the USAID-funded Renewable Energy Microfinance & Microenterprise Program (REMMP). Established as a social enterprise in May 2011, SolarNow grew out of the Rural Energy Foundation, a Dutch NGO providing distribution and training support for the use of Solar Home Systems (SHS) with market experience across Africa. SolarNow uses asset finance to provide electricity to off-grid rural communities through modular, expandable SHSs, and distributes an increasing range of energy-efficient appliances through a network of franchises around the country.Read
If Product is King, Distribution is God
The challenges of distributing to so-called “last mile” customers in remote communities, particularly in Africa and Asia, are well understood, and various business models seek to address them. SolarNow’s distribution model includes independent franchises that facilitate sales and system installation. SolarNow oversees and supports these franchises through dedicated head office teams to ensure consistent quality across the network. Head office teams supervise sales, marketing, service and credit, provide ongoing support and training, and review and approve credit assessments.
The Merits and Drawbacks of a Franchise Model
A franchise model has distinct pros and cons. Advantages include speedy replication due to standardization; adaptability to local circumstances; quality assurance; reduced risk of branch dilution; likely alignment of incentives between franchisor and franchisee; and cost-effective setup and economies of scale. Disadvantages include a significant up-front investment; challenges in finding suitable entrepreneurs in low-income markets; difficulties encountered in monitoring franchisee activities in remote areas and low-income markets; and – for social-driven organizations – a potential risk of mission drift.
SolarNow’s model addresses these challenges and opportunities by training franchises to consistently install to standard, building strong customer relationships with high quality service support, and driving referral-led sales opportunities. Franchisees are selected for their local contacts and technical skills, as referrals from satisfied, local customers are a key sales driver in a market damaged by a history of poor quality and fraud. In addition, franchisees conduct initial credit assessments, which, if approved, are referred to the head office in Kampala.
Currently, SolarNow has 43 branded branches and authorized franchisees across Uganda with 64 forecast for the end of 2014, and will open its first branch in Tanzania in January 2015. Branches are distributed across the country and target higher-density rural communities.
Selecting the Right Person
As in any agent model, the skills and qualities of the franchisees are indispensable to the business. SolarNow’s sales and marketing team therefore recruits franchisees carefully, and targets the communities in which SolarNow’s current and potential branches are located. SolarNow thereby ensures candidates with knowledge of local networks, language and culture – all of which are important in building strong customer relationships. A premium is placed on particular criteria such as a franchisee’s communication skills, ability to invest time in building a long-term business, interest in working with rural communities, experience in developing customer relationships, commitment to client satisfaction and proven ability to run a business and lead a team.
Training and Professional Development
The creation of a franchise entails an assessment process that includes franchisee interviews with various team heads within the head office, followed by six weeks of training, both in the office and the field. This includes education on sales and marketing, service and logistics, credit processes and IT systems, followed by onsite training with existing franchisees to walk through everything they need to do in the field. Recruits are initially deployed as part of the central marketing team before being assigned a franchisee role.
The recruits who demonstrate the best potential for success are typically entrepreneurs with at least five years work experience. Most candidates have a Bachelor’s Degree and either a technical, microfinance or sales background, for example having worked for or with a bank, MFI, or another solar business, or as an account manager for a retail business.
Ongoing professional development allows new recruits to learn from others and keep up-to-date on products, marketing strategies, targets, customer service and special offers. Most franchisees attend at least four supplementary training sessions a year. Training needs are monitored by the sales and marketing, credit and finance or IT teams, and are led by head office team members. Ongoing coaching is also provided in the form of regular branch visits by the head office teams. Quarterly franchisee group meetings, which include all franchisees from across the country together with head office staff, include workshops and presentations from “star” franchisees sharing best practices.
Incentives for Franchisees
Any organization that uses agents or franchisees (as opposed to salaried employees) for sales has to think carefully about incentives and commission structures. If incentives are too low, there is insufficient motivation for sales and customer service; too high, and overly-aggressive sales/credit practices can be a risk – particularly in MFIs where loan officers can only make a decent living from commission on loans – and there is no dedicated credit team to make the final evaluation.
SolarNow’s asset finance-based affordability model puts an independent credit assessment team at the center of the organization, but takes advantage of the franchisee’s on-the-ground position and relationship with a potential client to provide initial income and asset information – along with the more subjective evaluation of whether the customer is going to be a “credit-worthy” one. Combining this centralized credit process with a commission structure for franchisees encourages franchisees’ natural entrepreneurship (for which they’re selected in the first place) and fosters healthy sales competition while mitigating bad credit decisions.
In SolarNow’s case, franchisees are compensated a commission of about ten percent on each sale. Reward schemes are periodically reviewed, as management feels it is important to adapt to changing circumstances and get regular feedback from franchisees. Current reward schemes include use of a branded truck, new marketing and premises assets, and increasing allowances for each sales target threshold achieved. Franchisees also maintain a security account with the company, accrued as a percentage of their earned commission, which provides collateral for fixed assets provided to them and any losses due to service or credit issues.
Naturally, incentives are based on carefully designed and achievable performance targets, including not just sales but portfolio management (proportion of on-time payments or delinquencies) and quality of installations and customer support.
Profile: A Star Franchisee
During the last quarter, SolarNow’s top performing franchisee was David Kiramiriki, from Kamuli branch. With 76 sales in three months, he won the first branded truck, and the management has recognized his “honest and reliable approach” and “strong commitment to customer satisfaction; a constant focus on understanding his customer’s needs and putting himself in their shoes to develop trust and strong relationships, maintaining consistently high quality in installation and service.” His success is such that he spends proportionately less time on general marketing, as his current clients have transpired to be his strongest promoters – doing some of his job for him, and illustrating the advantage that good customer relationships can have on a franchise’s and an organization’s bottom line.
A Day in the Life
Running a SolarNow franchise is a demanding job, which requires personnel with drive, imagination and stamina. The franchisees drive both the sales process and after-sales services to their customers – building strong customer relationships and positive brand awareness in their local communities. Each franchise has a catchment zone of potentially 40,000 off-grid households within a 50km radius. They also have responsibility for chasing delinquent payments, assisting with repossessions when relevant, as well as uploading (and monitoring) data to SolarNow’s Arc Finance-funded OpenERP Management Information System. A typical franchisee is up early and out in the field with their new and potential customers, performing site inspections and working with clients on their applications. Afternoons are spent working on installations, completing paperwork and uploading data to the system for head office review. Franchisees also typically spend around a quarter of their work time liaising with clients and the head office to deal with delinquent payments and credit issues.
A Franchisee’s Role in the Credit Process
Franchisees are the face of the business to the customer and are key to SolarNow’s success. They explain the contract and repayment process, gather information for initial credit assessments and follow up in cases of delinquency. They’re responsible for monitoring customer repayment performance and ensuring customers understand their obligations. But in cases of serious delinquencies or potential repossession, franchisees are supported on site by the head office credit team. Where necessary and appropriate, the security fund reserve for each franchisee provides coverage for 50% of credit losses.
When Franchisees Fail…
SolarNow’s franchisees have minimum performance targets to meet. Not all do so. Those who fail to follow procedures or fail to meet targets are let go. Some take the skills and experience they have acquired at SolarNow elsewhere – an ineradicable risk in any industry. Franchisee turnover (“churn”) is typically around 25 percent per year and mainly due to failure to meet performance targets.
Learning Lessons for the Future
Nobody achieves perfection the first time, and this is particularly true in remote rural areas of Africa, trying to introduce new products to a new and undeveloped market, while providing asset finance at the same time. It’s a complex and challenging task. For SolarNow, building the network of franchises has been a learning experience. It has meant discovering what customers are looking for, what doesn’t work and what motivates entrepreneurs. It has required a focus on being demand-driven.
SolarNow’s management team concedes there are things it might have done differently in retrospect. Initial targets to scale may have been optimistic, and didn’t allow for adaptation or tweaking of the basic model with a core group of branches before rapid expansion. Maintaining simplicity and standardization of the model took a while to achieve, and the importance of constant communication with franchisees and customers – including regular follow-up – has dramatically improved. Modification of its rewards and incentive schemes has meant a focus on short-term economic benefits while using a structure that fosters peer group motivation. And engaging franchisees in better understanding the performance of the business and having a say in significant organizational change decisions has improved performance and morale alike.
Finally, the credit process is the most difficult part of an enterprise providing products beyond the cash-only reach of customers. Getting the right balance of franchisee involvement in the credit process improves accountability and ownership without impairing the ability to grow strong customer relationships. Developing a process that builds trust and fosters collaboration with the franchisee network, finding the right people and training them with a long-term vision, incentivizing them to perform well, all while balancing the roles and responsibilities of the credit process is a complex challenge indeed. With its continued expansion and burgeoning reputation, SolarNow is showing that it is a challenge that can be met.
IDCOL and Solar Home Systems in Bangladesh
While demand for small-scale renewable energy is virtually infinite, a small microfinance institution or energy enterprise needs capital to meet that demand with supply. The Infrastructure Development Company Limited (IDCOL) addresses this barrier to scale in a unique and exciting way. With massive infusion of government capital, management from the private sector and a unique asset finance model using creative partnerships, IDCOL has produced a stunningly successful program.
In sub-Saharan Africa, nearly 590 million people lack access to electricity, including eighty-five per cent of rural populations. M-KOPA Solar is seeking to change this. Based in Kenya, M-KOPA Solar (www.m-kopa.com) is an innovative asset financing company that sells small-scale solar home systems (SHSs) to off-grid households on an affordable, 12-month mobile money payment plan via hire purchase. As of February 2014, M-KOPA actively provided affordable solar power to over 50,000 Kenyan households – and is adding a thousand more households per week. M-KOPA has ambitious plans: it has just raised US$20 million to fund expansion of its customer base from fifty thousand to one million households by 2018.
Niki Armacost discusses Financing Solutions for Clean Energy in Latin America at the Americas Society/Council of the America’s 7th Microfinance Panel in New York City, January 30, 2014. She is joined by panelists Gregory Watson, Head, Strategic Planning and Team Leader, Clean Energy, Multilateral Investment Fund, Inter-American Development Bank and Amy Wang, Investment Officer, Global Social Investment Funds, Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas. Moderated by Christian Gómez, Jr., Director of Energy, Council of the Americas.
Arc/REMMP’s five-branch energy finance pilot program begins in Uttar Pradesh
As one of India’s most successful and dynamic microfinance institutions (MFIs), Utkarsh is one of Arc’s most exciting partner organizations under its USAID-funded Renewable Energy Microfinance and Microenterprise Program (REMMP). The partnership offers a fantastic opportunity to “piggyback” Utkarsh’s nascent energy lending program on top of its underlying vigorous growth. Following a multi-month process, Arc Finance’s pilot program with Utkarsh has just begun renewable energy finance operations in Uttar Pradesh.
The Weaker Section Development Society (WSDS) is one of seven microfinance institutions (MFIs) that Arc Finance currently assists under its USAID-funded Renewable Energy Microfinance and Microenterprise Program (REMMP). A small but fast-growing, community-based MFI, WSDS operates in the central and southern districts of India’s northeastern state of Manipur and has recently begun finance and disbursals of solar home system components to underserved communities.
Innovations in Financing Small Scale Clean Energy, a full-day 2013 workshop organized by Arc Finance in conjunction with USAID and the Sustainable Energy for All Energy Access Practitioner Network, brought together a range of stakeholders to discuss the innovations in financing now being deployed in the small-scale, clean energy space. These sessions were made possible with generous support from USAID.
Mitra Ardron is CEO of Lumeter Networks, which is developing a variety of pre-paid electricity meters and cloud accounting services for renewable energy companies to build micro-grids and solar home systems (SHS) and extend service to the Base of the Pyramid. Renewable energy companies currently have trouble servicing this market because of the difficulty of managing small payments and the high degree of theft. Mitra spoke to Arc about how Lumeter has solved this through an ultra-low cost meter, which incorporates innovative tamper protection across micro-grids and facilitates pre-paid capacity for SHS as well.
The price of small solar systems in East Africa has fallen rapidly over the past decade, but US$70 for a two-light system is still too high for most off-grid households to pay upfront. It would be affordable for many more people with suitable financing to spread the cost, but microfinance isn’t always appropriate or available to fill this gap.
UK technology company Eight19 came up with an innovative way to spread the cost of a solar system: the Indigo pay-as-you-go solar home system that is activated by weekly scratchcard payments. The team spun out Azuri Technologies in August 2012 to promote Indigo in emerging markets.
Ben West is the co-founder and CEO of EcoZoom: a for-profit, certified B Corp, social venture company selling affordable wood and charcoal-fueled, highly efficient cookstoves in developing countries. EcoZoom works to empower local workforces, economies and women while creating financially sustainable markets and connecting themselves to all parts of the value chain. The company has 15 staff, and offices in Portland, Oregon and Nairobi, Kenya. To date, the company has sold more than 90,000 units to 14 countries, with key projects in 5 countries.
Before founding EcoZoom with co-founders Amanda West and Phil Ferranto, Ben managed the complete turnaround of the social venture company StoveTec. Ben earned an MBA from the University of Oregon, and before attending graduate school, Ben ran a US$20m account with 6 office staff and 150 truck drivers within the US$1bn company, US Xpress. Ben and his team have just finished setting up their offices in Kenya, where he currently lives with co-founders Amanda and Phil.
Ajaita Shah is the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Frontier Markets and the President of Frontier Innovations Foundation. Frontier Markets is a rural marketing, sales, and service distribution company that provides access to affordable and quality consumer durables to low-income households in India. Frontier Markets is currently operating in rural India and working primarily with clean energy products like solar lighting and smokeless stoves. With five years of microfinance experience in India with organizations like SKS Microfinance, and Ujjivan Financial Services, Ajaita has also worked on numerous development projects in seven Indian states.
Stima Systems is a Kenya-based energy startup that delivers affordable lighting and charging services to low-income off-grid customers using a distinct payment model: the group microlease. In this conversation Stima CEO Konrad App shares the origins of Stima’s model and provides insights into the power of groups to expand access and support commercial viability.
Solving the “last mile” problem – or providing renewable energy and suitable finance for it to the Bottom of the Pyramid – is far more collaborative than competitive. You can see this clearly in the network of partnerships we at Arc Finance have developed for our current portfolio of projects: we link energy companies, MFIs, technology providers, remittance companies and other distribution organizations to facilitate access to finance for renewable energy for the un(der)electrified billions whose lives can be improved.
Collaboration and partnership were among the key themes of the 2013 Ashden Awards held in London last week. We are proud to be a supporting partner of Ashden and were thrilled to attend the awards, which are among the most prestigious for sustainable energy solutions. Projects awarded ranged from partnerships at the local level (UK-based initiatives such as encouraging cycling or recycling in cities, or developing green spaces) to global projects that try to leverage new technologies, financial innovations and the brightest of ideas in order to scale access to affordable renewable energy to those who need it most: the poor. The conference was a great opportunity to share ideas, contacts and build further partnerships. Collaboration might be a tedious and overused bit of management-speak, but in this space, it is the sine qua non of progress.
This day-long, pre-event workshop, held in conjunction with the 2013 Microcredit Summit in Manila, was organized by Arc Finance and brought together high-level representatives from MFIs, energy enterprises, government entities and donors to engage MFIs on financing renewable energy. This video series was made possible with generous support from USAID.
SunnyMoney is a social enterprise that was spun off from the NGO, Solar Aid, in 2011. While Solar Aid focuses on installing solar systems into schools across several countries in Africa, SunnyMoney focuses on selling solar lanterns. In just a few years since its launch, SunnyMoney is already reaching sales levels of tens of thousands each month, growing very quickly in Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia. The company employs a unique sales and marketing approach called “The SunnyMoney Way,” which works closely with education authorities, incentivizing head teachers in geographically defined regions to promote the benefits of solar lanterns to their students and families. Orders are then collected and the lights delivered in follow-up sales visits by SunnyMoney team members, during which thousands of lights can be sold in a single event.
SunnyMoney’s Managing Director, John Keane, talks to us about the excitement and hard work of the transformation of SunnyMoney from an NGO program into a social enterprise, and now the daily challenge of supporting its growing success.
NBC Miami & Tropik TV
Big surprises sometimes come in small packages and Angaza Design embodies this maxim. Led by CEO Lesley Silverthorn Marincola, the three-person team had already launched in five countries with its innovative SoLite solar lamp when it encountered the affordability barrier. Unfazed, the team pivoted and turned its engineering skills to developing and testing a new concept in pay-as-you-go solar energy. Lesley spoke to Arc Finance about how the human-centered design and can-do approach of companies such as Amazon – where she worked on the early generations of the Kindle e-reader – can be applied to seemingly intractable renewable energy problems with impressive results.
INENSUS is a young, off-grid energy company based in Germany that develops solar/wind-hybrid microgrids for developing countries’ remote rural regions. The company’s “Micro-Power Economy” model, currently being employed in Senegal, centers on supporting both income-generating as well as household energy activities to truly catalyze local village economies.
Arc Finance recently caught up with Jakob Schmidt-Reindahl, managing director of INENSUS’ Senegal operations, to discuss the company’s clients, pre-payment approach, and role that microfinance plays in helping to realize the micro-energy economy.
Fenix International is a Silicon Valley based renewable energy company that designs and manufactures income generating energy solutions for mobile telecoms in emerging markets. The company has developed the ReadySet, a plug-and-play smart battery that charges by solar panels or bicycle dynamo to power mobile phones, lights, and many devices powered by USB or Car Lighter Adapters. The ReadySet is sold by MTN, Africa’s largest mobile phone company, through its network of retail outlets in Uganda. The end customers are micro entrepreneurs who use the ReadySet to make additional income from charging phones in off-grid rural areas.
In a conversation with Arc Finance, Brian Warchawsky (Chief Operating Officer) and Peter Glenn (Business Development and Sales Manager) explain how Fenix combines its core skills to ensure that its products work not only for the customer, but for the whole chain from manufacturing, to distribution and financing.
Founded in 2010, Solar Sister is an energy company that promotes access to affordable solar lamps and small solar systems in communities in Sub-Saharan Africa. Using an Avon-style distribution system, Solar Sister builds and extends the supply chain through women’s rural networks by providing women with a “business in a bag”: a start-up kit of inventory, training and marketing support.
Arc Finance talks with Katherine Lucey, CEO of Solar Sister, about the process Solar Sister uses to support rural women to become micro-entrepreneurs and how it enables rural women to earn an income in a flexible way, doing as much or little as their circumstances and preferences dictate. Due to the pioneering work of Solar Sister, renewable energy gets to even the most remote villages, women are empowered and supporters are satisfied. In this extract, Katherine discusses, among other things, village level cash management, the importance of mobile, and learning to let her entrepreneurs set their own pace.
Since its founding in 1984, the Negros Women for Tomorrow Foundation (NWTF) has explored a range of ways to live up to its mission of helping poor Filipino women achieve self-sufficiency and self-reliance. NWTF offers an impressive array of products, including micro-loans to assist micro-entrepreneurs, insurance and student loans, and continues to look for innovative products and services to meet the needs of its clients and grow the organization.
Arc Finance talks with Raymond Serios, Director of Research at NWFT, about how the MFI embraced energy lending as a way to expand its mission and find new ways to grow and attract customers. In 2009, Arc Finance helped the organization launch its energy loan portfolio, and since that time the program has changed in a number of ways as NWTF has learned more about client demands, and as energy products have continued to diversify and evolve. In this extract from a wide-ranging interview, Raymond reveals how NWTF’s business strategy and operational approach to energy has transformed over time, moving from a narrow focus on consumer credit to a model in which members are trained and financed as energy product sales agents.
The Negros Women for Tomorrow Foundation (NWTF) is a one of the Philippines’ oldest and largest microfinance institutions, serving nearly 140,000 clients across the nation’s central island region. Among institutional practitioners of energy microfinance NWTF is notable for its inventive, trial-and-error approach to problem-solving and program development, and its patient, long-term commitment to building a strong, high impact and commercially sustainable model. In this episode, Raymond Serios provides a nuts and bolts account of how the MFI draws on experimentation, client feedback and a close study of the evolving clean energy market to adapt and build its successful energy lending program.
Founded in June 2010, Milaap is a Indian start-up based in Bangalore that crowd-sources low-cost capital for microfinance institutions through its online platform as well as social funds, high net worth individuals (HNIs) and corporate partnerships. Funds are not donations, but rather micro-loans between a growing global network of contributors and low-income Indian borrowers. Milaap sources capital exclusively for non-traditional, value-added product portfolios, supporting investments in water and sanitation, vocational training, and SME capital.
In 2011, Milaap added energy lending to its portfolio when it established a partnership with DCBS, a small MFI based in West Bengal (India), and Onergy, a leading solar integrator in the region. Milaap has also made plans to partner with Karnataka-based Grameen Koota, one of India’s largest MFIs, to co-fund its growing energy lending program.
Arc Finance recently caught up with Milaap co-founder Anoj Vishwanathan to discuss the company’s origins, its growing focus on energy, and the core value proposition that it offers its MFI partners in the challenging environment of the post “microfinance crisis.”
Product R&D and design, high volume manufacturing, global distribution, sales and marketing – this is the range of one of the world’s best known micro solar companies, d.light. Since 2006, the company has been developing and distributing high-quality, solar portable lighting products to low-income, off-grid customers worldwide. Ned Tozun, d.light’s President and Co-Founder, recently took some time to speak with Arc Finance about the company’s growth, its approach to distribution and marketing, and the role he sees for microfinance in making improved energy affordable for d.light’s target customers.
Kenya Women Microfinance Bank (formerly KWFT DTM), established in 2008 as a subsidiary of Kenya Women Holding (KWH), is a Kenyan microfinance bank with over 600,000 women clients, and a network of 231 offices spread across 45 out of the 47 counties in Kenya. With strategic advice and technical services from Arc, KWFT launched its energy lending program in 2010. View the video below to see how this access to finance significantly increased rural Kenyan women’s quality of life.