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(UPDATED) Empower Generation: Mobile technology to empower women to power the world

Empower Generation empowers women to deliver clean energy to communities. We identify, train and support women as entrepreneurs to sell portable solar PV lighting and mobile charging solutions to their last mile customers in Nepal. The widespread use of cell-phones in developing countries will enable us to reach distant markets and electrify one third of the world's population living in energy poverty.

Photo of Malachi
11 15

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Our women-led network has distributed over 10,000 lights to benefit 40,000 people. As an evolving social enterprise, we want to make access to energy easier. In 2015 we will offer Pay As You Go (PAYG) power at home. We want to improve our sales process and offerings by leveraging innovative mobile-enabled payments and system-monitoring technology. 
UPDATE: User Experience Map (located in the image carousel)
Our map showcases a (true!) customer-turned entrepreneur story and the benefits felt by the community. Runa is a current Empower Generation entrepreneur who overcame significant obstacles to provide for her family. We are proud to share Runa's story as an example of how the Empower Generation model aims to expand networks, provide opportunity for all women and girls and improve access to energy in rural areas of Nepal with the use of innovative mobile-enabled payments and system-monitoring technology.

1) Runs is a 38 year widow and single mother to 3 children who works as a handicraft producer.  She and her family live without access to reliable electricity.  She and her children suffer from the dangers of kerosene smoke and lack productive work hours at night.

2) Runa hears about a new solar enterprise being run out of the women's center where she works.  It is here that she meets Sita, the entrepreneur who started her enterprise with the help of Empower Generation. Sita sells Runa a simple solar lamp with an affordable payment plan.  

3) With her new solar lamp, Runa is able to safely light up her home, allowing her children more study time and more productive work hours for herself to earn more income making handicrafts.  

4) Soon after Sita, the entrepreneur, holds an Empower Generation Solar Enterprise Training for local women in Runa's village. Runa and many other women attend, learning about solar technology and small business ownership.  Runa decides to submit a business proposal and is selected to become Empower Generation's newest entrepreneur.  

5) At her solar center, Ujyalo Mithila, Runa is able to sell solar home systems (lamps, tvs, fans) to customers using a mobile money payment system. Her customers in rural areas can pay for their solar home systems from a moblie phone while also monitoring their energy use to ensure efficiency and affordability.  

6) Runa has now become an income-earning entrepreneur and helped to safely and efficiently light up her community.
UPDATE: Marketing Strategy
When trying to reach new customers and potential entrepreneurs we have to keep in mind that many live in hard-to-reach rural areas with limited access to mass media such as television, radio and internet advertising.  We often use word-of-mouth and work with local community groups and other NGOs to recruit entrepreneurs.  We strive to build a strong relationship with our entire network of entrepreneurs and customers by addressing their specific needs and offering a sustainable solution.
For our new PAYG/mobile technology program we are aiming to work with a mobile money partner.  Mobile money isn’t a common form of payment in Nepal and we will be working hard to ensure our customers and entrepreneurs that it is a safe and trustworthy method.  We will be using the same community approach to marketing that has worked for us in the past to make sure our entrepreneurs and customers are comfortable with the new technology.  Raising awareness about the benefits of mobile money will become a part of our program; we want customers to know that it is easy to use, suitable to their lifestyles and will help them budget more effectively.
Starting this month we will be testing new marketing concepts and implementation with two of our current entrepreneurs.  We have created an inspirational marketing campaign for solar using Above The Line and Below The Line advertising in a wide range of channels.  We will use the information gathered to assess the viability of these new approaches and help shape our marketing efforts for the remainder of 2015.
 

What community does this idea benefit and who are the main players?

Nepal’s entire population is under electrified, with 60% percent not even connected to the unreliable electric grid. Empower Generation serves rural households that typically spend around 10% of their income on harmful and ineffective lighting, like kerosene lanterns. Rural women bear the brunt of energy poverty in Nepal, as they are responsible for obtaining basic fuels and providing energy services to the family. With limited or no career options, women are often confined to these traditional tasks. Empower Generation offers women life-changing careers providing vital energy services to local communities. Empower Generation is a lean, global team that works with local stakeholders to catalyze energy access. Our local women-entrepreneurs are the main players. We also work closely with local community organizations and financial institutions, mobile money service providers, and solar power system designers and manufacturers.

How does your idea specifically help your community rapidly transition to renewables?

Solar power is available, affordable and reliable – the obstacles lie in financing and distribution for under-electrified rural communities. Our model empowers local women to become a part of our solar distribution franchise and sustainably deliver power to the last mile. With the convenience of mobile payments paired with mobile-controlled systems, EG entrepreneurs can offer customers high-quality, efficient solar power systems for their homes in exchange for monthly payments. With mobile money, entrepreneurs and agents will be able to collect monthly payments easily even when customers are hard-to-reach.

What early, lightweight experiment can you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

We are ready to pilot our PAYG solar-home-system and mobile payment platform within our existing distribution network of 7 women-led solar businesses and expand it to our 2015 class of 10 entrepreneurs later this year. With an expanded customer base, more enterprises and a mobile marketing campaign EG will be able to build on our existing model of women-led distributed energy services to offer more customers more power and appliances with built-in financing.

What skills, input or guidance are you keen to connect with from the OpenIDEO community to help you build out or refine your idea further?

• Mobile money + telecommunications partners/advisors • App/backend software developers/advisors • Consumer electronics specialists to help us integrate PAYG technology, solar power components and appliances into a compelling package • PAYG technology sourcing partners • Training programs for solar installation/maintenance partners/advisors • Customer Financing/Impact investment/Program-Related-Investment

Please indicate which type of energy is most relevant to this post:

  • Solar

This idea emerged from:

  • A Group Brainstorm

11 comments

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Spam
Photo of Dave Zinsman
Team

Incredible stuff, Malachi!

I'd love to see you further develop your sales model and reach your goals. Aside from payment partnerships and technology hurdles, what are the top 3 things currently holding you back from reaching your goals?

Spam
Photo of Malachi
Team

Hi Dave! Thanks for your comment.
Right now 3 of our biggest hurdles are financing, staff/training and local vendors. Finance is an obvious one that most of us here probably know about - creating enough capital to be able to take our project to scale. Secondly is finding the right sales agents and entrepreneurs and making sure they are properly trained in all necessary fields including mobile and solar technology plus small business skills. Our third concern at the moment is finding the right local marketing operations to make sure our project succeeds and inspires a hard-to-reach customer base.

Thanks so much for your question, I hope we shed some light on things for you!

Spam
Photo of Amanda Rees
Team

Hi Malachi,

I'd love to hear more about the process of finding sales agents and entrepreneurs. How do you identify and engage with them? Do you have staff members based in the communities as well? If so, what is their role and what sort of support do they give or need?

Spam
Photo of Dave Zinsman
Team

Cool, Malachi.

I'm also interested in how you engage agents, as Amanda mentioned.
How can we help you with the training and marketing tools you need to empower your network and accelerate sales?

How do you feel about posting a basic experience map that your agents go through, and possibly highlight the area that you think needs work? That way the OpenIDEO community can weigh in on your process, provide suggestions, input, etc.?

Spam
Photo of Malachi
Team

Hey Amanda and Dave!
Thanks so much for your questions. People are always really curious about the process of finding new entrepreneurs and I think it's probably one of the most exciting and rewarding parts of this project. Generally, our existing entrepreneurs and EG Nepal staff (4 staff members total) will hold a "Call for Applications" where interested women are invited to come and learn about the basic principles of renewable energy, small business ownership and what EG is offering. After identifying potential candidates they participate in a Capacity Building Workshop to get more in depth training on things like accounting, marketing and human resources. All candidates submit a business proposal which is then reviewed by EG staff and ultimately the new entrepreneurs are chosen.
We find that this process helps us determine which entrepreneurs are self-motivated with strong ideas that have the potential to turn into successful business models.
Our local staff in EG Nepal consists of 4 team members who act as Program Coordinator (2), Country Director and Financial Officer. It's a lot of work for 4 people but our staff is incredibly committed and gets constant support from those of us working from NYC, LA and the Netherlands.
Our Communications Director is in Nepal right now working on some exciting new initiatives and we will be updating you as soon as possible on those, check back tomorrow!
We'll be posting a user experience map later today (adding finishing touches now!) and hope this helps give everyone a clear idea of our current business model combined with our new PAYG/mobile money program. We really look forward to hearing from everyone about their thoughts, ideas and suggestions for us moving forward.

Thanks again, can't wait for feedback!

Spam
Photo of Dave Zinsman
Team

Super--can't wait to see the customer journey map, and thanks for the detailed description!

Spam
Photo of Shuting Zeng
Team

Hello Empower Generation, really happy to see your idea here finally! I remember reading about your achievement in the Research Stage, about women's great power in the community. I remembered when I was volunteering in Nepal, there was no more electricity after 5 or 6. Hard to get a hot shower since my host family couldn't afford electricity for that...


I totally agree with that and have read from other reports about women's significant leadership in almost all types of community development. Looks like the plan is already so thorough and great! Involving entrepreneurs and giving trainings are great ideas! I am especially interested in the PAYG technology development in Nepal! Please keep us updated about your project! Best wishes, Shuting

Spam
Photo of Malachi
Team

Shuting, thanks for the comments! We're glad you think its a great idea! We've been working hard and are looking forward to all the feedback and getting started on refining our idea. We think the PAYG model will help us expand our network and bring more people light (and hot showers!) in Nepal.

Spam
Photo of Bennett Cohen
Team

Hi Shuting--I'm one of the co-founders of Empower Generation. We're seeing a range of PAYG solutions ranging from very simple (sms based access code to "unlock" a period of service from a solar home system) to very sophisticated (embedded SIM card with 3G connectivity that sends all kinds of data about the usage of the solar home system ). Sifting through the options and finding the best fit for different rungs on the energy ladder is a key focus for us right now and we can use some help. Cheers!

Spam
Photo of Natalie Lake
Team

Hi Malachi,

Wow this is an awesome initiative and that video was amazing! I think the story of Cita (sorry if I spelled this wrong) is an incredible story and would make an amazing storyboard to accompany your post.

https://openideo.com/blog/community-prototyper-storyboards

There are quite a few solar industry experts and pay as go you specialists here on OpenIDEO. I'm going to link you their ideas so that you may converse with them about your ideas, concerns, questions, and just get overall advice

Jon and his company SolaUK, work with solar lanterns and pay as you go

https://openideo.com/challenge/renewable-energy/ideas/rent-to-own-r-2-o-pay-as-you-go-pre-paid-solar-home-systems-shs

Adam and Brian run a Canadian based group working with the Karibu and Pay as you go currently-

https://openideo.com/challenge/renewable-energy/ideas/solar-business-in-a-box-kit

Also, Mitra works with Lumeter, they are also working with pay as you go and you would definitely get some great advice from him.

https://openideo.com/profiles/mitra

If you guys are looking to for help in trainings for solar installations etc. I'm currently part of a team here on OpenIDEO, looking to start a mentorship program for just that. Feel free to check it out and let us know your comments.

https://openideo.com/challenge/renewable-energy/ideas/green-angels-1

Also finally, you guys might be able to give some advice to Nicole. She is trying to start a similar initiative in Haiti but using digicel mobil phone providers. It would be great if you guys could take a look at her idea and offer advice based on your experiences :).

https://openideo.com/challenge/renewable-energy/ideas/distributing-solar-energy-products-via-digicel-merchants-in-haiti

Very excited to continue to watch your project :)

Spam
Photo of Malachi
Team

Hey Natalie - thank you so much for your feedback and all of your suggestions! Its great to know that there are similar projects within reach to learn from and to offer guidance for when we can. We are lucky to have such a solid network of energy entrepreneurs and customers already in place - it's a valuable resource when exploring new initiatives and advising others on what has worked for us. Your mentorship program looks really interesting and potentially really helpful for projects like ours - we're looking forward to seeing what happens with it and getting involved if we can.

Thanks again for all these links, we have a lot of new friends to make!