Women + Energy = Development

by Elephant Energy
Meme Felicia
Meme Felicia

Meme Felicia smiles, cooking fresh cuts of meat and preparing chips in Oshikango market. She adds another cut of beef to the grill. Customers wait in line and point to the pieces of meat they want, and grab a piece of tripe to chew on while they wait for Felicia to prepare their order. Felicia serves up a plate full of food to a hungry customer, and he pays his bill and begins feasting.

What’s strange about this scene? Its hours after dark. A month ago, Meme Felicia would close her business at sunset because she didn’t have access to light.

Meme Felicia has prepared and sold food in Oshikango market for 4 years. There was no electricity at her business location, so she used candles to keep her business lit. The candles were placed above her so she could illuminate her working area, but wax from the candles would drip on the meat and customers complained. Even with the use of the candles, she would close her business around sunset because the candles could not provide enough light to operate during the night.

Last month, Felicia attended a solar light demonstration in Oshikango hosted by Elephant Energy. At the demonstration, Felicia learned about Elephant Energy’s solar product offerings, including the popular Sun King Pro. As the name suggests, Sun King Pro is powered by the sun. During the day, the Sun King Pro soaks up energy from the sun, and at night, it provides light and also charges cellphones. To those without light at night, it also provides an opportunity to extend activities after dark. And since all of Elephant Energy’s solar products come with a 1-year warranty, including the Sun King Pro, quality is guaranteed. “It didn’t take long for me to decide that this solar light would help my business,” said Felicia. She purchased the Sun King Pro from Elephant Energy a few days later.

She’s now been using the Sun King Pro for a month and in that month, she’s seen dramatic positive changes in her business. Because she no longer uses candles, she saves money on candle costs. The meat she sells is now wax-free and customers compliment her on the quality of the product. Felicia now graciously offers free cellphone-charging services for neighboring business owners. But most importantly, because her business area is now illuminated by the Sun King Pro’s light, she has been able to extend her operating hours so she can sell food to hungry customers hours after the sun has set. “Thanks to my new solar light and extended hours, I have tripled my daily profits,” Felicia exclaims.

Since she has extended business hours in Oshikango market, customers have taken notice and more people are coming to the area to eat at night. But it’s not just the hungry customers who have noticed – other women operating food stalls in the area have, too. Now, thanks to Felicia’s success due to her Sun King Pro, two other women have purchased Sun King Pros from Elephant Energy for their businesses and several other women are eager to buy them.

The two new Sun King Pro owners in Oshikango market have seen similar success with their businesses, saving money on candles, serving wax-free meat to customers and extending their business hours every night.

Udalikokule, one of the new Sun King Pro users, said she now works for hours after sunset thanks to the solar light and has doubled her income. While she’s only had the Sun King Pro for a few weeks, she’s already seen a difference. “I’ve been able to provide more food for my 3 children, invest more money into my business, and put the rest of the extra income into my savings account.”

Elephant Energy Sales Manager for Ohangwena and Omusati, Elizabeth Ndiyayele, hears success stories like these often. “We are a nonprofit with a social mission: we deliver affordable, high-quality solar products to people who need them the most, even to people in the villages. Elephant Energy saves customers money on candles and kerosene and lets entrepreneurs work during night hours when they couldn’t before. I love my job, and I love hearing that people are improving their lives with our solar products.”  

Elephant Energy's WE Project successes are thanks to our remarkable network of women and supporters of women from the USA to Namibia. Thank you to our dedicated supporters, advocates, cheerleaders, and donors who make stories like Meme Felicia's possible.

Rural Sales Agent Training
Rural Sales Agent Training

With your help, Elephant Energy has made exciting process with our Women’s Energy Project in the last three months. Our women sales agents brought light to over 300 people living without electricity using our rent-to-own program, and launched new marketing initiatives, including educational radio programming and village-based demonstrations.

Our rent-to-own program, which allows rural customers the ability to pay in small increments, completed its fourth cycle in August. Providing our customers flexible payment terms has particularly important this year, as Namibia is in the midst of the worst drought the country has seen in 30 years. The drought has caused rural households to face extraordinary strains on already strained cash supply, making the combination of money-saving solar products and a flexible payment scheme, nothing short of life-changing. One of our customers tells us:

“Since I bought it, I have saved money for cell phone charges. It is so helpful and not wasteful. I am not fearful to go walk outside at night any more. If I had to pay the full price up front, I could never have bought this light.”  -Rent-to-own customer Rosemary Malimi

In June, Elephant Energy conducted a Vocal Empowerment Workshop for our women sales agents, during which time women learned tools for approaching potential customers with confidence. The women recorded dramatic skits for use in educational radio advertisements, and learned how to perform shadow puppet plays using solar-powered lights for use in educational and entertaining village demonstrations. With our highest selling months of August-October upon us, Elephant Energy's marketing efforts are in full swing, with radio ads airing weekly and flyers, banners, posters, t-shirts and bags used by Elephant Energy staff and sales agents to promote awareness of Elephant Energy’s products. Our Regional Sales Manager, Elizabeth, says: ‘it is only a matter of time before Elephant Energy is a household name’.

Women are central to Elephant Energy's efforts to deliver affordable energy solutions to off-grid households throughout Namibia. We do this not only because we believe that investing in women is the right thing to do, but also because it is good business; women are traditionally responsible for procuring and managing household energy resources in Namibia, and our women sales agents are best-suited to reach out to the women in their families and communities with access to these life-changing products. 

As Elephant Energy expands into new areas, there is a great opportunity to scale this women-focused sales model to change the lives of thousands of rural Namibians. 2013 has been a year of enormous growth for Elephant Energy, with our rural distribution network expanding from one urban shop and 12 rural sales agents to 8 urban shops and 48 rural sales agents, furthering a sustainable business model that generates income for rural entrepreneurs and delivers energy access to off-grid households.   

With a growing group of supporters as a strong foundation, Elephant Energy will continue to test the limits of what is possible. We would love if you would tell your friends about us. Invite them to learn about our work on our website, “like” us on Facebook, watch one of our videos on Youtube, or follow us on Pinterest. Tell them why you chose to support Elephant Energy, and what it means to you.

On behalf of our sales agents and customers, we at Elephant Energy would like to offer a huge “Ni’itumezi’ (Thank You!) to all of our supporters.  Together, we’ve brought light and economic opportunity to thousands of off-grid households around Namibia. Without your support, none of this would be possible.

Annety - Solar Light Saleswoman
Annety - Solar Light Saleswoman

The power line to the school passes right over Annety's house. After the sun goes down, Sesheke village in the Caprivi Region is plunged into darkness - like most of rural Namibia. It's ironic that just before Earth Hour, when the world is supposed to switch off lights to raise awareness about energy wastage, many Namibians would be happy to switch a light on. And now, Annety Kachitomwa can do just that.

Annety sits in the living room doing the church accounts with the aid of a single bright light that illuminates the table. It's a Sun King, provided by Elephant Energy and powered - as the name suggests - by the sun. During the day the lamp's solar cell soaks up energy, and at night it provides light for reading and preparing food.

The Sun King provides more than light, it is also a source of income for Annety, who works as a representative for Elephant Energy, which a non-profit trust set up to provide solar lighting for rural communities. Annety sells the lights to community members and earns a commission on sales.

She needs the money. The family has a large field to plough, but hiring oxen for two weeks would have cost N$6 000. Luckily her husband is in the Namibia Defense Force, so there is an income. She reckons that an oxen for a small part of the field costs N$600 - that should provide enough maize for most of the year.

The Sun King is a popular lamp because it can charge a cell phone as well. It is known locally as the Divi light. Instead of buying it outright, which costs N$390 – more than many people can afford - customers can buy it by buying credit for light, in the same way you buy credit for a phone.

The lamps have chips inside that hold credit, rather like a SIM card. The agent buys credit from Elephant Energy in Katima Mulilo; Annety buys N$1 000 at a time. Then customers who have Divi lights bring them to Annety for a 'recharge'. The two lights stand next to each other and communicate by Bluetooth. The amount of credit is set and the customer's light is charged.

Of course the sun does the real charging. All the chip in the Divi light does is set a limit to how long the light will work. When the credit is exhausted, the light cannot be switched on, however much sunlight it has soaked up. The customer buys credit until the full cost of the light has been paid. Then the chip is switched off using the agent's light, and the customer's light will continue to work without further payment.

Credit for an hour's light is N$3. That's the cost of a candle, which also only burns for an hour. But candles flicker and are nothing like as bright as a Sun King, and you have to be careful; many houses have caught fire due to careless use of a candle. When you have spent N$350 on candles all you can do is go on buying more, but when you have spent N$350 on a Divi light, from then on it's free lighting from the sun.

Annety buys credit at two dollars and sells for three. She's developing a sense for business and sells flour, sugar, oil and sweets. She also sells candles, but Divi lights are better value, she explains to other village women. So far she has sold 18. The money will go to the ploughing and for the two young children who attend the local school.

One day, perhaps, the power line will be connected to the houses as well as the school. But maybe by then solar power will be lighting up whole houses. So while the world switches off for earth hour - Annety switches on.


Testing the Divi Light in Namibia
Testing the Divi Light in Namibia

Women are central to Elephant Energy’s success in delivering affordable energy solutions to rural households throughout Namibia. Since our Women’s Energy Project began over two years ago, the women of Kwandu Conservancy have tested dozens of energy products, sold hundreds of solar-powered lights and cell phone chargers, and pioneered new financing methods to provide even their poorest customers with access to Elephant Energy’s solar products. The combination of solar products and flexible payment scheme is nothing short of life-changing for rural Namibians, and now you can read more about the impact of your donation to support our work in our 2012 Women's Energy Project Final Report.  Please read this report and consider making a year-end donation to support the Women's Energy Project in 2013 by Clicking Here!  Just listen to what some of our Namibian partners have to say about their solar products:

“Since I bought it, I have saved money for cell phone charges. It is so helpful and not wasteful. I am not fearful to go walk outside at night any more. If I had to pay the full price up front, I could never have bought this light.”  -Rent-to-own customer Rosemary Malimi

 “I don't worry that my house will burn or that I can't see what is happening at night. I am saving money. Light is brighter than candles, it is like the moon shining.”  - Rent-to-own customer Malimi Mashebe

The women of Kwandu Conservancy are now working with Elephant Energy and Sonopro Power & Light to develop a new pay-as-you-go solar lamp called  the “Divi Light”. The technology embedded in these solar lamps allows customers to pay for their solar lamp over a period of months by purchasing credits from other customers or via a cell phone app.  Even more exciting, customers can physically pour credits equal to days of use from one lamp to another (just like your iPhone knows where it is in space, so does the Divi Light); in essence, Sonopro has created digital kerosene!  Initial surveys indicate that the Divi Light innovation makes solar LED Lighting more accessible to the poorest of the poor:

“The Divi light is flexible. I can pay when I am having money. It is safer than candles because it cannot burn the house.”  – Divi Light owner Mukuni Hoster

Learn all about Elephant Energy’s women entrepreneurs and our work to create digital kerosene in our 2012 Women's Energy Project Final Report, and please consider supporting this work with a contribution by Clicking Here. Your donation will help us accelerate the development of this groundbreaking technology and expand our work to new communities in Namibia.

Thank you for all of your support, and Happy Holidays from the Elephant Energy team!

Elephant Energy Sales Agent
Elephant Energy Sales Agent


Saleswomen Training at the Energy Shop
Saleswomen Training at the Energy Shop

On June 13th and 14th, Elephant Energy held a two-day training in Katima Mulilo, Namibia to recruit a new group of traveling sales agents.  Sales agents work on a commissioned basis, earning between $1 -$4 profit for each product sold, which is an important source of supplementary income for their households. The flexibility of EE’s sales model means that sales agents are able to run a business while not sacrificing other domestic and income-generating responsibilities.

Potential sales agents were recruited using word of mouth, messages disseminated through local NGOs, and advertisements placed on the radio. After a careful interview process, 18 individuals (14 women and 4 men) from rural villages all over the Caprivi region were selected to attend the training.

The training was a place of learning, sharing, and community. New agents received training in marketing, sales and solar product use and maintenance, and gathered together to discuss marketing plans and to roll-play customer interactions. Sales agents from areas close to one another made plans to combine restocking trips to EE’s shop in Katima Mulilo to cut down on the time and expense of travel.

As Elephant Energy expands into new areas of Namibia, there is huge potential to expand this women-focused sales model to change the lives of thousands of women and drive the adoption of money-saving renewable energy technologies. Elephant Energy remains committed to viewing women not just as customers, but as drivers of the energy revolution in Namibia.

A New Team of Saleswomen
A New Team of Saleswomen

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Organization Information

Elephant Energy

Location: Denver, CO - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.elephantenergy.org
Elephant Energy
Project Leader:
Elephant Energy
Denver, CO United States

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