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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 present 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 are 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 chronic underdevelopment. Of 121 districts in Uganda, Yumbe has consistently ranked among the ten poorest. This has negatively 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 unfortunately results in direct negative impacts on the environment in which refugees live. This is closely linked to the need for firewood and energy. Another norm is that an emergency response often 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 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 roughly 80,000 refugee residents. This project would increase quality of life and provide awareness of increased availability of clean energy equipment, 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 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 childcare. 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. 1,287 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 4,468 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 troubleshooting 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?

Final Updates (*Please do not complete until we reach the Improve Phase*): 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)

One consideration made during the Expert Feedback stage is that research demonstrates no direct correlation between access to lighting and children’s academic performance, something established in trials run in Zambia in 2018. Solar lighting does, however, act as one factor for educational performance when paired with interventions addressing other barriers. ARC staff implementing the project will work to address some of the gaps that exist outside of energy access that lead to improved educational performance, including working with BioLite marketers to earmark funds earned under the project for children’s education, and linking with SGBV Community Activists to address trends towards non-investment by families in girls’ education. Further, research consulted during the Expert Feedback stage emphasized the fact that equipment breakdown was an issue in other trials, thus underscoring the importance of training technicians on site to ensure that any equipment problems can be resolved.

During this Improve Phase, please use the space below to add any additional information to your proposal.

During the Improve Phase, FAO sent ARC the results of a comprehensive study on wood fuel use in Bidi Bidi (see: FAO, “Wood fuel supply/demand and screening of scenarios to improve energy access and reduce environmental degradation.”) Among other findings, the assessment concluded that wide use of improved cook-stoves as proposed by this project would result in a minimum of 30% reduction of fire wood use, and would also make contributions to gender equity and peaceful co-existence, objectives that this project also pursues. In terms of the additional benefits of the project, ARC and BioLite were also able to produce an estimate of the broader environmental protection impact. By project end, the following will be achieved: 2,000 tons of CO2e offset (10,000 tones CO2e offset over 5 years), 4kW of electricity capacity installed, $286,200 in fuel savings, 70 disability adjusted life years saved, and approximately 2,000 refugee provided with clean energy access. These benefits are paired with the already described impact of creating jobs for refugees, increased protection/safety of refugees, and, if approached with a mind to the many blockages to children’s education, improved academic performance and opportunities to learn for children. Furthermore, unlike many energy access interventions in refugee contexts that use low quality equipment, this project utilizes high performance products with additional co-benefits that improve quality of life for refugees. For example, the innovative cook stove technology (the BioLite HomeStove) used in the project not only reduces emissions by 90% and wood consumption by 50%, it also generates electricity from the heat of the cooking flame which can be accessed via an onboard USB. This allows users to charge mobile phones and power an LED light to make sure the cooking area is well-lit, thereby reducing risk of burns. The electricity generation of the HomeStove also brings men into the kitchen (to charge their phones) thereby increasing family interaction and reducing gender inequality in the household. Furthermore, the solar lighting technology (BioLite SolarHome 620) used in the project provides 4 bright LED lights, 2 USB ports, an built-in rechargeable radio/mp3 player, and one of the hanging lights is motion activated. If the motion-sensing light is placed on the outside of the home, it can provide enhanced security by alerting the family of any individual passing by their home. Further, since the development of the initial proposal, ARC completed a Bidi Bidi Market Assessment, which demonstrates a number of factors that show increased likely rate of adaptation to the new technology. First, over 70% of Bidi Bidi residents are already aware of and “frequent user[s]” of mobile / digital wallets, which is the main platform for solar equipment incremental repayment. Second, whereas the most common services received by refugees are food assistance and medical care, those which are most appreciated / desired by refugees in Bidi Bidi are education and training, followed by livelihoods assistance, both of which are contained in the intervention. Additionally, the study revealed that while nearly 80% of refugees in Bidi Bidi have participation in community-based financing structures (e.g. VSLAs / SACCOs), another way in which the project will finance equipment and scale the reach or the project, most respondents were aware of these services and enthusiastic about increased opportunity to access these, something that ARC and BioLite would facilitate under the project. Further, important for the peaceful coexistence element of the project, more than 70% of respondents commented that the most profitable businesses in the settlement were jointly managed by refugees and Ugandan nationals, with 72% of refugees commenting that there were no blockages to working in collaboration with host communities. Finally, underscoring the ability of the target population to manage enterprises vending solar equipment successfully, 68% of respondents affirmed that they had all the requisite skills already to carry this out (e.g. wouldn’t require training on business management), citing that building networking skills and linking refugees with Ugandan nationals were more important preconditions for their success, something the project intends to carry out.

Note that you may also edit any of your previous answers within the proposal. Here is a great place to note any big final changes or iterations you have made to your proposal below:

All proposal sections have been edited in line with comments received, incorporating received feedback where necessary. As referenced above, changes to the approach to ensuring that improved energy access leads to improved educational performance of children depends on linking the project with other services (e.g. Livelihoods, SGBV Prevention & Response) that ARC already implements in Bidi Bidi, and identifying and dismantling other barriers to education outside of inability to study at night due to lack of energy access. This was an important finding, and ARC will work with beneficiaries of the project to ensure that money earned under the Livelihoods component of the program is partially applied to removing fee payment as a blockage to education. Similarly, ARC SGBV staff in Bidi Bidi will work with all project beneficiaries to ensure that gender imbalances in the home do not spoil hopes that the project will improve education outcomes, a gradual process that ARC has experience in seeing through. Additionally, due to findings gained during the Beneficiary Feedback stage, ARC will work to subsidize not only household access to improved cook stoves and solar lighting / electricity during the scaling phase of the project, but also increase lighting of public infrastructure in the settlements, particularly bathing areas and latrines. These facilities are rarely lit, and given that they are relatively small in size, application of 1-2 solar lighting systems for these infrastructures would make them safer, reduce incidents of SGBV, and improve dangerous hygiene practices rooted in refugee non-willingness to access dark latrines at night. Also, as a follow-up to the FAO research on wood fuel needs in Bidi Bidi, ARC has worked to identify potential partners within Rotary Clubs in Uganda so that provision and marketing of improved cook stoves is done concurrently with replanting campaigns in and around Bidi Bidi, something that would improve host community / refugee relations as well as improve environmental protection in the area. The basic set-up would be looking to Rotary, under their “Mission Green” initiative in Uganda, to provide tree seedlings, which would then be planted through voluntary actions carried out by Rotary, refugees and host communities in Bidi Bidi. This slight addition to the project does not have cost implications, but does permit a more robust response to environmental degradation inherent in refugees’ continued need of firewood as a source of fuel.

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)

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Attachments (4)


ARC Annual Report, 2017

Bidi Bidi Gap Analysis.pdf

2018 Bidi Bidi Gap analysis (UNHCR, Government of Uganda)


BioLite Solar Home Product Description


BioLite Home Stove Product Description


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