Change Minds, Activate Markets

Lighting Africa Cartoon | Image: Lighting Africa

Lighting Africa Cartoon | Image: Lighting Africa

In a recent Power for All survey of leading decentralized renewable energy (DRE) companies (stay tuned for full results in March), marketing campaigns were pinpointed as “crucial for raising awareness about the benefits” of DRE—with the majority of respondents ranking them first in importance for effective market building programs. In line with both research on reaching base-of-the-pyramid consumers, and the clear upward trajectory of energy access following consumer awareness campaigns, the survey results inspired us to look more closely at the question: What makes a successful DRE awareness campaign? Luckily, there are some impressive examples.

“Above the line” engagement—aka advertising by radio, television, mobile and the internet—is a vital tool in the arsenal of any organization highlighting new products and services. In the DRE sector, initiatives such as CEED’s 100% Bihar have raised the profile of distributed solutions by gathering support from high-profile Bollywood stars (as well as “The Hulk” from Hollywood fame), while the multi-country Lighting Global education campaigns have led the way in awareness raising through engaging media content: from television adverts, to radio, billboards to comic books.

Example of Consumer Awareness Campaign Impact, Kenya

Example of Consumer Awareness Campaign Impact, Kenya

Yet in unelectrified regions, the lack of access to key information channels presents a complex challenge. Televisions might only be watched on rare occasions, and households may not have access to radio, or print media. “Below the line”—or direct ‘one-to-one’ outreach—has therefore become a vital feature of DRE demand-creation campaigns. From the extensive work of the Lighting Global teams, including direct outreach in over 9,000 villages in India, to targeted actions to engage women’s groups, faith leaders, and communities across Africa, word-of-mouth knowledge sharing has been instrumental in catalyzing market growth. And this success has provided important lessons for emerging markets. December saw Sierra Leone incorporate key elements of direct outreach into its new Energy Revolution program, with solar road-shows and fairs, and the education of young people via the country’s network of Ataya bases (tea shops).

Although awareness is a key to achieving clean energy access, so too is building trust. In low-income communities, investment in a solar light or home system, or commitment to sign up to a mini-grid, is a significant purchase decision. In the early stage of East Africa’s market growth, the importance of learning about the benefits of DRE through a respected source was a critical learning of the SolarAid in Tanzania. After-sales data showed unparalleled success when a community was told about solar by a teacher, so the organization began working closely with the education network to reach communities through local schools, leading to over 1.7 million solar light sales in three years, and over $300 million in savings for families living below the poverty line. 

Similarly, endorsement of DRE products via trusted agricultural cooperatives, and local chieftains has rapidly accelerated the uptake of decentralized technologies. And in Rwanda, the imihigo tradition has taken DRE knowledge-sharing one step further. As well as providing a forum for discussion through the country’s indigenous knowledge-sharing system, imihigo (or “goal setting”) has led to individuals and families, as well as community leaders, committing to meeting energy-related development targets. Early research by UCL / BBOXX found that over 40 percent of solar home system users interviewed had energy targets in their households, with 50 percent reporting energy targets at the umudugudu (village) level.

Momentum on awareness is certainly rolling, and in more established markets it is already enabling even greater innovation, impact and opportunity. In Bangladesh, energy literacy through the IDCOL program has led innovative breakthroughs—such as the MESOLshare peer-to-peer solar utility model— awareness about solar lights in East Africa has primed the market for solar home system markets and mini-grids, and knowledge gathered from micro-hydro programs in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Nepal is now being used to highlight its potential across South East Asia.

Yet with awareness also comes demand that must then be met. And while the importance of awareness should not be underestimated, neither should the need for joined up planning to avoid market spoilage and dashed expectations. In Tanzania, increased awareness and demand in 2014-5 led to an influx of low-quality solar lights faster than companies selling quality products were able to finance their extension into new regions; while in the mini-grid space, the hopes of villagers who have seen the benefits of mini-grid systems in neighboring settlements can be raised, only for them to find that there is no national planning for similar services to be provided to their homes and businesses.


In Conversation with... Praveen Kumar

Suryoday | Image: Lighting Asia

Suryoday | Image: Lighting Asia

How to educate last mile consumers in India about new technologies? Visit 9,000 villages and engage over 200,000 people.

With only 54 percent of India’s rural population exposed to television and radio, the IFC's Lighting Asia team in India realized that they would need to take a creative approach to raising awareness about decentralized solar products. Cue the Suryoday—or "Sunrise"—campaign, with 16 foot vans rolled out across 31 districts enabling communities to interact first hand with solar lights and solar home systems. Decked with interactive quizzes, games, video and music—as well as solar products and a dark room for testing them—the vans provided the backdrop for events in 5 villages a day, including meetings with 54,000 women, 15,000 school children, and 17,000 potential retailers and distributers.

In this interview, Lighting Asia’s rural marketing expert in India, Praveen Kumar, shares his insights on running the Surayada program across Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. Listen to the Q&A. 


Campaigning: 5 Levers for Change

Media Workshop in Sierra Leone 

Media Workshop in Sierra Leone 

Simple information-sharing—about technologies, business models and proven approaches to building the market—can lead to profound shifts in thinking and practice. Power for All’s Director of National Programs, Charlie Miller, has overseen the launch of national campaigns in Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe in the past 12 months. In this article, he shares five examples of how awareness-raising has accelerated decentralized renewable energy (DRE) market growth by creating behavior change.

Tell Microfinance Organizations (MFIs) about DRE, to build a new route to market

MFIs are an important, proven distribution channel for the DRE sector in many countries. With established presence in rural communities, they have a pivotal role to play in helping companies to reach rural areas for the first time.  For example, LAPO Microfinance in Nigeria has sold 70,000 solar lights to low-income consumers in the last three years. Yet, in many countries, MFIs remain unaware of the the opportunity. In Sierra Leone, following a Power for All Access to Finance workshop, the Sierra Leone Association of Microfinance Organizations (SLAMFI) agreed to work with the Renewable Energy Industry Association (REASL) to develop a pilot aimed at testing the viability of MFIs acting as solar distributors. The pilot launched in December 2016, and aims to distribute 1,000 lights in early 2017. If the pilot is successful, expect MFIs to become an important route to market for the industry.

Engage all government stakeholders, not just the Ministry of Energy

Government policies and programs can have a big impact on market growth rates. Whilst the Ministry of Energy’s thinking and practice is most important, the work of other Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) can also make a big difference. In Nigeria, Power for All brought together representatives from 25 MDAs all of which had a footprint in the DRE sector, alongside private enterprises and industry experts from the Renewable Energy Association of Nigeria. Highlighting the range of DRE technologies, and discussing issues around quality, subsidies and the need for a market-based solution to ensure sustainability, led to positive steps. MDAs are now able to liaise with the private sector in the design of their programs and procurement processes, to help ensure quality and prevent excessive or inappropriate subsidy.

Strengthen industry voice, through supporting industry associations

Bringing people together is a great way to start creating change. Building a forum to share knowledge, develop ideas and unite behind calls for action is what makes it happen. When building markets for DRE, a strong, credible private sector voice is needed. Which is why Power for All has helped to establish national renewable energy associations in three of its focus countries. Whilst the interests of companies do not always converge, associations enable the private sector to work together to address issues on which there is consensus, and have a seat at the table in policymaking processes. In Sierra Leone, for example, REASL has played a key role in developing the VAT/tariff exempt “Green Lane” for importation of quality verified products, by providing continuous feedback on their experience with customs, revenue authorities and others, and suggesting ways to improve the process.

Help the media tell the DRE success story

Energy—what it costs, and how reliable it is—is a hot topic in countries that can’t take the grid for granted. Newspapers carry articles lamenting the unreliability of the grid and the financial woes of state-run utilities. Countering this bad publicity, media outlets are increasingly running stories about communities gaining access to reliable power through distributed solutions, and how governments are helping markets grow. Through workshops for editors and journalists, story-telling, and site visits to see the technology in action, Power for All has achieved a major perception shift. Share of voice—the proportion of coverage in print media focused on distributed solutions as opposed to the grid—has increased  11 times in Sierra Leone and 26 times in Zimbabwe since the campaign started. As one journalist in Zimbabwe told us, “I commit to write more knowledgeable articles about energy and DRE, and to use my position to change the lives of ordinary people for the better.”

Engage civil society to create demand

With strong links to local communities, civil society organizations (CSOs) and community groups are an invaluable channel for profiling DRE solutions amongst unelectrified families and businesses. Working with CSOs to raise awareness of the benefits of DRE reduces the cost of sales and marketing in rural areas, making sustainable business more viable. Power for All worked with Oxfam IBIS in Sierra Leone. Oxfam IBIS and its partners already had a sizeable distributed energy and education program—but had not yet figured out their public awareness and demand creation strategy. By sharing information about the School Campaign approach—pioneered by SunnyMoney in East Africa— and helping source technical assistance, Power for All helped Oxfam IBIS roll out School Campaigns in Sierra Leone. Initial results look very promising, so watch this space.


Awareness & Action: Video & Visuals

Reaching new audiences, and engaging rural communities is not always easy—but these videos and visuals show how consumer awareness campaigns and materials have helped millions learn about clean distributed energy solutions. 

Check out some great events, radio jingles and comic books by WakaWaka, Lighting Global, Power for All and IDCOL. 


Waka Waka Solar Roadshow

Suryoday Consumer Awareness Campaign

IDCOL TV advert

Power for All Radio Jingle

Lighting Africa Comic Book

Spotlight Comic Book | Lighting Africa 

Spotlight Comic Book | Lighting Africa 

Lighting Africa Cartoon


Images: Get Sharing!

Making the switch from a familiar energy source to a new solution is a significant commitment, so peer to peer endorsement and over-the-odds benefits are key. Thankfully, for solar lights and solar home systems, big benefits have led to big recommendation.

Share these images to keep the momentum going!


Notes from the Frontline: Devergy

This week, Power for All partner Devergy shared an honest, tell-all look at the difficulties they faced when raising awareness of their solar micro-grid technology in rural communities, and the hard work they put in to creating solutions. Read their first-hand account of the challenges they countered attracting new customers, and how they have turned challenges into opportunity. 


Customer with Start-Up Kit | Image: Devergy

Customer with Start-Up Kit | Image: Devergy

Getting the word out

Any service-oriented industry will face the challenge of how to attract new customers, and rural energy services is certainly no different. We started 2016 incredibly strong, ready to hook up thousands of new customers. Though everything technically was in place, we stumbled at what we honestly didn’t think was going to be the hard part – attracting new customers. We’ve been doing this for awhile now, our name is known throughout different rural regions of Tanzania. Our service is far superior to what our customers are currently using (kerosene, poor quality batteries) and requires no customer maintenance. Generally speaking, our customers are already familiar with the idea of solar energy and all of the benefits. It’s not a hard sell.

Except sometimes it is. It turns out we needed to apply the same innovative and creative spirit to our marketing plan that we do to the technology – so we made a few changes, surprising even ourselves with what we bought to the table.

1. We are marketing to our customers in rural Tanzania with smart, well-designed, engaging, easy-to-understand print material in their language. We are not trying to explain step-by-step how our system works on a poster (tried that – failed completely, lesson learnt). We want our print material to attract the customers interest, offer something they want, and give them an immediate way to find out more. Sounds simple, right? It took us a few months to get here.

2. We began offering more financial rewards to our salespeople for securing new customers and particularly for selling bigger-ticket appliances, and did see some positive results. However, this hasn’t completely solved one of our biggest challenges: trying to find truly effective incentives to motivate our sales team to keep going. We learnt that money is not all, and good incentives need to come both financial and non-financial. This will be something we continue to work on in 2017, now more optimistic that we’re on the right track.

3. Two words: Road Show. What’s a road show? It’s when we load up a truck with plenty of appliances, Devergy starter kits, and Devergy salespeople. We travel through villages with music and loudspeakers and make our road shows a promotional event and point-of-sale service. It allows us a lot of direct contact with our future customers where they come to us (so to speak) instead of going around house-to-house, which saves a tremendous amount of time. Not to mention, it’s FUN, and it works very well.

4. Facebook marketing. This is something we just started working on at the beginning of the year, after being inspired by another company in Kenya who had a tremendous amount of success marketing their products to rural farmers. So now we finally have a reason to use our facebook page – to directly communicate with our customers, and to buy ads targeting our specific audience (this is a relatively new feature in terms of rural audiences). This means hiring a Facebook Marketing expert, and making the investment to see if we really can find new customers and communicate with our current customer better through this service.

5. The last one is fairly big news, and perhaps surprising to anyone that is very familiar with our work. We install and maintain village-size micro-grids. That’s our heart and soul. When we arrive at a new village to sell our service, most of our customers are already relatively familiar with what solar power is. However, they’re not familiar with micro-grids and all that comes with it – the good (reliable service), and the “bad” (needing to put more money upfront). Asking people who live on less than $3 a day to part with what amounts to (roughly) a week of income isn’t always easy, especially if we enter their villages months before Harvest season starts (many of our customers will earn a significant amount of their yearly incomes during a few select months a year).

Enter the idea we specifically stayed away from – we began selling Solar Home Systems as a way of transitioning our clients to our grid service. Here’s why: while we can set up a grid and start providing power pretty quickly once we have enough interested clients (within a week), it does require more financial commitment from a larger group of households per village. For the enthusiastic household that is anxious to move to solar power, the idea of needing to wait can be a buzzkill. Contrast that to a Solar Home System, which can be sold to individual households and start working rather immediately.

Our SHS are a transition tool to the grid, hence they do not compete with our grid sales – and it’s working remarkably well. Our customers are getting a bit more immediate satisfaction and seeing the cost and lifestyle improvements (cleaner, less dangerous) immediately. Neighbors talk. Word spreads. Our SHS comes in only one size, just enough to offer lighting and phone charging – so when a SHS household and their neighbors are ready to start using radios, TVs, hair clippers, etc., it is a much easier upsell to move our microgrids into the village – along with the shiny, new, energy-efficient appliances that will work with the power from the grid.

Years ago, we said we had no interest in being on Facebook. We actively stayed away from the idea of Solar Home Systems. Our thoughts about our company branding were more about what our industry would see, not our customers. All of this has changed, and it’s changed for the better.

*Reprinted with permission

Image | Devergy

Image | Devergy


February Campaign Activities

Find out about recent activities, and the up-coming events where Power for All is profiling decentralized renewables—and get involved!

LUSAKA, 1 February: Multi-stakeholder Forum on Sustainable Energy in Zambia

The month kicks off with for Power for All with our Zimbabwe Campaign Lead, Chiedza Mazaiwana, joining the AEEP / RECP forum, which focusses on the Business Opportunities for Decentralised Renewables in Southern Africa, and Zambia’s SEforAll Action Agenda. She will be speaking on financing and funding for decentralized renewable energy (DRE) programs during the event.

BOSTON, 11 February: Tufts Energy Conference, Tufts University

The Tufts Energy Conference is an annual event that brings together professionals, students, and experts from the private, public, and nonprofit sectors to discuss critical global energy issues. This year the conference will focus on Innovation for Global Energy Access. Kristina Skierka, Power for All Campaign Director, will give the Keynote Address.

HARARE, Week c/13th: Market Mapping, REAZ Workshops and Site Visits

Power for All will hold two workshops in Zimbabwe in mid-February, the first to enable local stakeholders to come together to analyse barriers to DRE market growth and discuss potential solutions, and the second to support members of the Renewable Energy Association of Zimbabwe in building plans for 2017. The team will also arrange two DRE site visits for policy-makers to learn about DRE business models & technologies and explore how the Zimbabwean government can help drive energy access.

Abuja, Week c/20th February: Media Editors Workshop

After a successful event last year, the campaign will hold a second Media Workshop in Nigeria to share knowledge on DRE technologies, business models and impacts, as well as the opportunities and challenges for growth in the national market. The event will enable journalists to ask questions about clean energy solutions in the Nigerian context.

FREETOWN, Week c/20th February: Civil Society Organization (CSO) Workshop

Following an initial meeting in November, Power for All will continue to work closely with campaign partner IBIS / Oxfam to bring together local CSOs to share knowledge and experience on energy access and DRE in Sierra Leone, and build concrete actions to work together to accelerate clean energy access.

JOHANNESBURG, 20 February: Africa Energy Indaba

During the Africa Energy Indaba—which will explore Africa’s next energy opportunities—Ify Malo, our Nigeria Campaign Manager will Chair the panel: How far and fast will distributed power generation grow? Make sure you join the session if you are attending the event.


January Highlight: Power for All Country Web-Pages

A crowd learns about different clean energy solutions during the Sierra Leone Solar Roadshow

A crowd learns about different clean energy solutions during the Sierra Leone Solar Roadshow

January saw the launch of national web pages for the three countries in which Power for All is running local campaigns.

From press releases on the Sierra Leone Solar Roadshow and the launch of the Renewable Energy Association of Nigeria, to Zimbabwe’s investor-focussed workshops, check out the country-pages through the links below for the latest national events, reports and news: