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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.

Photo of ARC Uganda

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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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Photo of Abdala

Great idea

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