Justine Abuga is the founder of Ecobora, a company in Kenya that redesigns solar kiosks.
Can you tell us a little bit more about Ecobora?
One of the biggest problems we had was how rural and underserved communities could afford our solutions. We are a business and cannot provide our products for free. Our approach is to go out to underserved communities. We identify women’s entrepreneur groups, and train them on financial literacy and basic entrepreneurship. After that, we construct the solar kiosks and equip them with a smartphone to help them maintain their inventory.
The women’s groups can bring their own agricultural products to the kiosks and sell them for free, thereby increasing their income. Second, fast-moving consumer goods companies can rent a shelf in the solar kiosks, earning the women an additional commission. Lastly, last mile distributors like solar or stove companies can provide stock of their products, just to ensure that the women can access them.
Thus, we create a market in a village with everything in one shop. People in the village, particularly women, can now begin doing business. When they work as entrepreneurs, they have money and they are able to afford life changing products.
What do you believe is innovative about your model?
With the women’s groups, we are tapping into a unique force. The women’s groups are already organised as a selling group. The groups repay the loan for a kiosk within six months; each individual woman only pays back $1 per month which equals $50 per month for the entire group. After six months, the women’s group own the kiosk. Thus, we're utilising an organised group to ensure we reduce the risks of our investment, and increase our return on investment.
The second innovation in this model is the nature of the kiosk itself. Previously solar kiosks have failed because people have shipped hefty containers with all those crazy innovations. Our solar kiosks are built from waste materials, like simple sheets or old timber from the villages. We are simple in terms of the construction and yet achieve the same sort of functionality.
Lastly, we are combining products sold by women’s groups. We are combining their sales expertise of selling these agricultural products with fast moving consumables like bread and sugar, plus the products of last mile distributors. By combining these three products, we're able to sort of come up with a one-stop shop, which ensure there's a lot of variety in the kiosks, making the women's income and the kiosk sustainable.
We believe that by tapping into these three pillars, we can work past the previous mistakes made by the predecessors of these innovations.
Click here if you would like to contact Justine.