Electrifying Africa: expanding frontiers sustainably

The client
The client is a non-profit organization (NGO) with the mission to sustainably bring electricity via solar systems to as many rural families as possible in sub-Saharan Africa – people who would otherwise not have access to electrical devices including safe lamps. They work through multiple local operating companies (30 – 100 employees each) and their management in a handful of African countries.

The situation
In one of the countries, the number of customers was leveling off. Increasing presence of local commercial providers was the key reason for the stagnation in customers for the NGO. In response, management decided to shift their focus and try to reach new customers in even more remote/ rural territory. However, the level of effort and associated high costs due to inefficiencies in the current operations provided a serious hurdle. The solar systems required substantial man-hours to install, operate and maintain. On top of that, the user fees were collected monthly by visiting each customer physically, which was expensive and provided a bias against going to even more remote customers. Next to that, political instability raised concerns about the soundness of the investments and the potential danger for the employees working in these regions. 

The question
Which steps did the NGO need to take to continue their mission to help as many people as possible again?

Our involvement
Working with local management (and administrative data on a cash-basis) we developed a thorough understanding of the economics over the full-lifespan. This helped the client to really understand the dynamics of their own financials. We worked with local managers on specific topics and facilitated discussions between NGO leadership and local management with structured insights based on facts and figures.

By understanding the economics in this much detail, we developed a detailed market penetration approach. From a bias towards larger systems, we helped them to choose a smaller more compact, resilient, and less expensive systems product. This created options for less costly payment and service procedures as well. 

Through a detailed analysis of the geographical aspects of the market we helped identify where potential for further increasing their customer base in need of electricity might be. Incorporating the extra complexity of cultural/tribal conflicts, to mitigate the safety issues for the employees of the NGO. 

With our findings, local management was able to make their business plan viable for more remote customers.  Hence, we helped them create the opportunity to provide electricity to many more people for the coming years, thus helping the NGO reach its goals.

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