Women bring solar energy to rural Rwanda

March 12, 2015 | By
GVEP International

Women’s active participation in the energy sector is bringing power to many off-grid communities throughout Rwanda. Nyirahabimana Alphonsine is one such entrepreneur who has taken advantage of the country’s sunlight to provide her community with alternative phone charging solutions.

Four years ago, Nyirahabimana Alphonsine and her husband struggled to generate sustainable income as they solely depended on farming for home consumption. After realising that many people in her area faced challenges to charge their mobile phones, she decided to act upon her community’s energy shortage by starting a phone charging business in 2011.

At age 33, married with 3 children, Alphonsine had no prior skills and an initial capital of 50.000 Rwf (72$). But only one year later her business began to grow and she was able to purchase a solar panel that boosted her productivity – increasing her working hours and income.

However, lack of knowledge in technology, business development and productive uses of energy scaled down the benefits her solar charging business could deliver. Spotting her potential and enthusiasm, GVEP enrolled her into the CARE 2 (Capital Access for Renewable Energy Entreprises) programme in June 2014 to help increase her productivity and thus meet the community’s growing demand for energy.

“GVEP gave Alphonsine’s solar charging business the push it needed by providing her with training on business development, technical support and market development, all the while identifying her business’s needs.” – Victor Hakuzwumuremyi, GVEP BDS Coordinator

Her business is now serving many neighbouring communities, enabling them to avoid long journeys to distant charging locations. Profitability from switching to solar has also allowed her to open a barber shop and a canteen in addition to her phone charging business.

“My business has shown tremendous improvement in the last year. My monthly income has gone from 120.000 (174$) to 150.000 Rwf (217$), and I have even been able to open up a new solar phone charging outlet.” – Nyirahabimana Alphonsine

Following GVEP’s support, Alphonsine’s business success was acknowledged during the International Day of Rural Women celebrations on October 25th in Gisagara, Southern Province, as she was awarded for her contribution to the eradication of poverty by the Rwandan Minister of Trade and Commerce.

GVEP is currently supporting 83 women entrepreneurs in Rwanda who are using solar technologies to boost their businesses’ productivity. Some of them started their business by using car batteries to provide power, but made the switch to solar technologies after GVEP’s intervention. These alternative solutions have changed the lives of many women entrepreneurs, who now generate enough income to meet their families’ needs and serve their communities.

Access to electricity in Rwanda is scarce, especially in rural areas where more than 80% of the population lives and as little as 5% has access to electricity. This is also a serious constraint to the growth of small and micro enterprises that represent 99.5% of private sector firms, resulting in low return, structural rural poverty, gaping rural-urban inequality and unrealised economic potential, especially for women.

The Rwandans’ entrepreneurial ability to address energy poverty is proving itself as many micro and small energy businesses grow across the country. Alphonsine is just one of the 30 entrepreneurs GVEP is supporting in Gisagara district, among a total of 270 solar and 15 pico hydro entrepreneurs nationwide.

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