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Mwangaza ("Light"): Improving Clean Energy Access to refugees in Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement and Ugandan Host Communities

Market-based approach to providing off-grid lighting and cooking solutions to refugees and host communities in Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement.

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*Please Upload User Experience Map (as attachment) and any additional insights gathered from Beneficiary Feedback in this field

Mwangaza User Experience Map

Why does the target community define this problem as urgent and/or a priority? How is the idea leveraging and empowering community assets to help create an environment for success? (1000 characters)

Bidi Bidi is an ‘off-grid’ camp, meaning that there are no sources of reliable electricity and there are few options for improved cooking methods. This creates a necessity for investment by refugees to light their homes (kerosene), charge phones (paid generator) and cook (purchased or illegally cut wood). Lack of electricity and efficient cooking options also presents protection risks. As refugees cut trees around the settlement for cooking fuel, this aggravates poor host community-refugee relations and increases their risk for SGBV. Lack of electricity in the home increases risks of petty crime, SGBV and presents barriers to education as at-home study is compromised by lack of affordable sources of light. Importantly, the project makes use of community assets, to increase chance of success. Business acumen in the settlement and indications of adaptation of solar/improved cooking methods is high, something that was learned during beneficiary feedback that called for these inputs.

How does the idea fit within the larger ecosystem that surrounds it? Urgent needs are usually a symptom of a larger issue that rests within multiple interrelated symptoms - share what you know about the context surrounding the problem you are aiming to solve. (500 characters)

Yumbe District, the location of Bidi Bidi, is an area of historic and chronic underdevelopment. Of 121 districts in Uganda, Yumbe has consistently ranked among the ten poorest.This has directly affected municipal services and investments in business, according to the 2018 World Bank Uganda Poverty Assessment Report. The promotion of off-grid electricity and improved cooking methods responds to these gaps, especially when done in a way that promotes joint refugee and host community participation.

How does the idea affect or change the fundamental nature of the larger ecosystem that surrounds it (as described above) in a new and/or far-reaching way? (500 characters)

The current norm in refugee services includes the provision of humanitarian services have direct negative impacts on the environment. This deterioration is directly linked to firewood refugees need. Another norm is that a so-called emergency response gives only passing consideration to second tier needs like electricity, long-term health and livelihoods. The project addresses these damaging norms in a novel way that promotes refugee health, safety and opportunities for education and livelihoods.

What will be different within the target community as a result of implementing the idea? What is the scope and scale of that difference? How long will it take to see that difference and how will it be sustained beyond BridgeBuilder support? (500 characters)

An immediate impact will be felt as heavily subsidized solar equipment and improved cook stoves are made available. Targeting vulnerable households, the presence of electrified homes will be felt across Zone 5, housing circa 80,000 refugee residents. This increases quality of life and provides awareness of increased availability of the equipment involved, generating a market space that will be filled by marketers of the equipment and trained technicians to install and repair the equipment.

How has the idea evolved or responded to your user research during the Beneficiary Feedback Phase and any further insights provided if you participated in the Expert Feedback Phase? (1000 characters)

During the Beneficiary Feedback Phase, ARC became aware of a number of potential user inputs that had not previously been established. First, besides mitigating SGBV risks and benefiting students and general home life, users told ARC that electricity in the home will also reduce the number of incidents of homes burning down when kerosene lamps overturn or break at night, a phenomenon that ARC was not informed occurred frequently. Second, a number of informants commented that care for newborn children is complicated/dangerous in the dark, but that home-based lighting would resolve this and permit better child care. Finally, reduced risk of snake and scorpion bites when acquiring wood or walking in the home at night was raised as a potential advantage to improved cook stoves and solar electricity in homes. 1,137 new Bidi Bidi responses on Kuja Kuja regarding need for solar or improved cook stoves have been received since the start of the challenge, with 4,318 received in the last year.

What are the key steps for implementation in the next 1-3 years? (You can attach a timeline or GANTT chart in place of a written plan, if desired.) (1000 characters)

The first six months will be the early adaptation stage, whereby solar home equipment and cook stoves are made available to 250 households in Zone 5 of Bidi Bidi. With equipment distributed and refugee and host community members trained on maintenance of equipment, we’ll monitor the use and adaptability of equipment distributed, verifying that it is fit to purpose and observing key criteria like peak periods of use and challenges/barriers to use of improved energy sources. From the six-month mark, scaling will start, during which solar equipment and cook stoves will be made available at subsidized costs across Zone 5 and later all of Bidi Bidi via the introduction of marketing points where the equipment can be tested and acquired. One of the features of the BioLite equipment is that repayment for the cost of equipment is possible using a variety of accessible formats in affordable increments, most done digitally. This second stage will be an important proof of concept and uptake test.

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of roles and responsibilities for each entity). (Feel free to share an organizational chart or visual description of your team). (500 characters)

The project will be implemented by ARC in collaboration with BioLite, the provider of the equipment involved in the intervention. ARC is responsible for day-to-day implementation, with BioLite coming in during key points of the early adaptation stage and scale-up stage to provide technical guidance on equipment use, training of technicians to maintain equipment, and provide guidance to ARC’s staff on promoting adaptation to the solar and cook stoves as well as troubleshoot any use challenges.

What aspects of the idea would potential BridgeBuilder funds primarily support? (500 characters)

BridgeBuilder funds are sought to launch the intervention from scratch in Bidi Bidi. Priority in the first year of funding is the subsidizing of equipment purchase price and the training of marketers and technicians in Bidi Bidi. Due to ARC’s established presence in Bidi Bidi with support from other donors, contributions by BridgeBuilder to non-direct costs of implementing the project will be minimal, with 90%+ of the budget directly benefiting refugees and host communities in Bidi Bidi.

In preparation for our Expert Feedback Phase: What are three unanswered questions or challenges that you could use support on in your project? These questions will be answered directly by experts matched specifically to your idea and needs.

Q1: Regarding the use of solar-powered electricity, is there a clear consensus in any available literature on whether or not use is typically disproportionately applied to commercial activities vs. education or general household activities? Understanding projected use of the technology can offer important contribution to the type of outreach that ARC provides at the household level to maximize the positive impact of electricity for all household members.

Q2: It will be interesting to determine during the early adaptation stage whether or not electrifying households has a direct and measurable impact on school attendance and improvement of marks. We were unable to find any reliable studies on that topic, but we’d be interested to learn from the experts whether any direct correlation between household electricity in refugee setting and child school performance is demonstrated elsewhere.

Q3: Related to use of improved cook stoves, it would be interesting to learn more on the different rates of adaptation that we can expect to see in the host community as opposed to refugee communities. One of the core reasons why we hypothesize that adaptation to improved cook stoves will be higher amongst refugees is that a lot of the risk they experience in cutting firewood is that they are often cutting on land owned by host community members. For host community members that own land, what are the techniques that ARC could apply to increase adaptation despite their current access to a sufficient supply of firewood taken with relatively low risk?

Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

Of the 287,087 refugees residing in Uganda’s Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement, over 230,000 rely on traditional biomass fuel like firewood for cooking. Smoky, open-fire cooking and dirty, expensive kerosene used for household lighting are endemic to refugee settlements like Bidi Bidi--each year causing 20,000 premature deaths among displaced people, emitting 13 million tons of carbon dioxide, while also costing a family of five $200 a year in fuel expenditures for inefficient and unhealthy energy. Lack of sustainable lighting also has negative security and educational consequences in settlement, particularly for children. Further, refugee dependency on firewood for cooking results in the deterioration of relations between refugees and host communities, as host communities view refugees as responsible for environmental degradation due to their need to cut trees to prepare food. To address the health, environmental, economic, and intercommunal relations consequences of open-fire cooking and kerosene lighting, American Refugee Committee (ARC), in conjunction with BioLite, will establish a 12-month, market-based intervention for retailing the BioLite HomeStove and SolarHome 620 in Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement. This project will test the adoption of these products, evaluate the effectiveness of different financing methods (conventional consumer finance and Pay-As-You-Go, Savings and Loan/Credit) on product repayment. This will make important contributions to improving refugee livelihoods and refugee-host community relations, as well as offering significant benefits to refugee health and conservation of the environment. The start-up of clean cook stove and solar lighting retail businesses in Bidi Bidi, training of technicians to monitor and repair equipment, and conducting of community outreach to increase adaptation of clean energy will be done jointly by refugees and host community members and financed partially by local CBOs known as SACCOs.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

The project targeting is unique, intended to integrate and serve both host and refugee communities, providing services while also facilitating livelihoods opportunities for participants. The project beneficiaries include ~4,000 end-users of either improved cook stoves or home solar lighting equipment (2,800 South Sudanese refugees, 1,200 Ugandan host community members). Additionally, the project will create at least 24 (17 South Sudanese refugees and 7 Ugandan host community members) jobs marketing and repairing improved cook stoves and solar home equipment. The target population for this pilot consists of households that earn $2-8 per day, have no electricity, own at least one mobile phone per household, and cook daily with wood or other biomass product. 70% of direct beneficiaries of the project will be women due to the fact that Bidi Bidi women have unique challenges for accessing livelihoods, and bear majority of the burden in the home for food preparation and managing the home.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

The project is unique in that, while it makes progress in responding to a long-standing humanitarian challenge—refugee and host community access to energy—it does so through a sustainable, market-based approach that both responds to an urgent gap experienced by Bidi Bidi refugees and generates employees and future employers. Additionally, given that energy options for refugees are notoriously unsafe, unhealthy, expensive, and damaging to the environment (e.g. kerosene, firewood) as well as the relations between refugees and the communities that welcome them (e.g. conflict over available energy resources), the project stands to bridge all three thematic areas of the challenge: Peace, Planet, and Prosperity. Energy access interventions in Bidi Bidi that do not result in negative consequences to the environment or relations between refugees and host communities are not available at present, much less interventions that include livelihoods promotion and increased refugee safety.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Pilot: I have started to implement the idea as a whole with a first set of real users.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

American Refugee Committee (ARC) is an international non-profit, non-sectarian organization that provides humanitarian assistance to communities in distress in thirteen countries spread across Africa, Asia, and the Americas. In Uganda, ARC provides life-saving assistance to over 250,000 refugees - BioLite, based in New York City, develops and manufactures off-grid energy products that bring "energy everywhere," increasingly in refugee and rural communities -

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.
  • Yes, we are a registered company.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

Across its global operations, ARC employs a community feedback mechanism called Kuja Kuja to capture real-time refugee opinions on the quality of services they receive in settlements where ARC works and offer ideas for improving services. Kuja Kuja was developed in collaboration with IDEO over the past few years. In Bidi Bidi, an incredible amount of ideas from refugees include requests to bring solar energy and cooking energy solutions - 3,420 responses in less than six months to be exact.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

Peace-Bidi Bidi refugee and host community tensions have turned violent due to two factors: lack of employment opportunities for Ugandan nationals within the settlement despite severe poverty of Ugandans in the region and host community opposition to the resource demands of nearly 300,000 new arrivals, particularly firewood and water. The project directly reduces the pull on resources and increases employment opportunities and refugee-host community joint businesses. Prosperity-Both South Sudanese refugees and Ugandan nationals in the area of Bidi Bidi suffer chronic deprivation of livelihoods activities, and the project makes a meaningful impact to introduce sustainable and potentially solar vending units. Planet-347,480 tons of firewood are used for cooking in Bidi Bidi per year, cut from surrounding forests. Non-sustainable electrical options are the norm. The project begins a process of replacing unsustainable options with sustainable ones within an established market.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

As referenced above, the idea itself originated within the South Sudanese refugee community of Bidi Bidi, and was picked up by ARC's feedback mechanism, Kuja Kuja. In a short period of time, nearly 3,420 refugee ideas centered around need for off-grid/solar electricity options and improved sustainable cooking fuel access were logged by Kuja Kuja Teams in Bidi Bidi. Thus, the communities that stand to benefit from the introduction of affordable and safe energy solutions conceived of and communicated the idea to ARC directly. Also, as a means of subsidizing the start-up costs of units that will sell, install, repair, and monitor the use of solar equipment and improved cooking stoves, ARC will work with Ugandan Micro-Finance Institutions (called "SACCOs"), linking them to refugee and host community member-led start ups and setting up sustainable repayment plans for part of the start up costs for solar and cook stove vendors. Thus the idea and the response are fundamentally local.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

The project will serve a community of South Sudanese refugees and Ugandan host community members that is resilient, dynamic, business-oriented, and open to new ideas. ARC conducted a full market assessment of Bidi Bidi in the run up to this proposal, establishing among other things that residents of Bidi Bidi would likely also have the necessary funds to contribute themselves to the costs of solar and improved cooking stoves, increasing the sustainability and scalability of the project.

Geographic Focus

Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement, Yumbe District, Northern Uganda

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

The pilot stage of the project will occur over 12 months.

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No

If Yes, how has project idea changed, grown, or evolved since last year? (2,000 characters)



Join the conversation:

Photo of Gayanjith Premalal

Hi ARC Uganda ! Congratulations on coming this far. I love the user journey map that tells your story very clearly. I found this blog and is this talking about your proposal?

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