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How community-based education campaigns can increase electricity connections and improve project economics

Placing community awareness campaigns at the core of rural electrification projects can increase connections by 50%, reduce the cost per connection by 24%, and significantly improve the overall economics of the projects.  This preliminary conclusion emerged as a result of a Community-Based Energy Education Programme led by Energy 4 Impact in Tanzania.

As part of its long-term economic plan, the Tanzanian Government is scaling up energy access to reduce poverty and boost economic opportunities. It aims to electrify all villages by 2021 at a rate of 2,000 villages per year, through its Tanzania Rural Electrification Expansion Programme run by the Rural Energy Agency (REA). The percentage of people with access to electricity has increased from 14.2% in 2011 to 32.8% in 2017 (latest data available).  This upward trend is encouraging but lower than expected because of cultural barriers and a lack of understanding on the benefits and practicalities of connecting to electricity.

To equip communities with the information they need to make informed decisions on applying for electricity connections, the World Bank and the REA enlisted Energy 4 Impact to develop a community-based energy education programme.  

Between October 2018 and December 2019, Energy 4 Impact partnered with Tanzania Council for Social Development, an umbrella body of community organizations in Tanzania, to implement the Community-Based Energy Education Programme in 34 villages of Ruangwa District in the south of the country, where electrification rates are low. Together they identified appropriate community-based organizations to work with and a first priority was to understand why people were choosing not to connect to electricity.

“We found a mix of misconceptions and misinformation,” explains Fredrick Tunutu, Project Manager, Energy 4 Impact. “Many people think that electricity is dangerous and a fire hazard for their thatched homes.  They see it as a luxury, with high connection costs, that poor people cannot afford.  And some who are interested don’t know if they are eligible under the Rural Electrification Densification Programme (REDP), and/or struggle to know how to go about it.”

“It was clear that we needed to address this gap in information by raising awareness and understanding of the cost benefits of electricity versus traditional fuels; the health benefits over paraffin, kerosene, and diesel; and the wider economic benefits, including potential income generation.  Once we had built the interest and trust, we could then explain the practicalities.” Tunutu said.

With these insights, Energy 4 Impact designed a training and awareness programme for delivery by 112 village-based community leaders and elders across 34 villages.  Drawing on their influence and trust within their community, these change agents visited homes and held events, reaching 3,997 individuals with clear and simple messages about the economic, safety and practical advantages of using electricity in the home, aided by flyers, posters, videos, and other activities developed specifically for the community campaign.

Energy 4 Impact collected data throughout the campaign and analyzed the performance and effectiveness of the messages and materials, as well as the use of community change agents. They compared data from Ruangwa with evidence from Nachingwea, a region without a community-based campaign.

As a result of the education programme, more people have expressed an interest in an electricity connection: 46% of eligible dwellings in Ruangwa, resulting in 732 connections so far, compared to 22% and 496 in Nachingwea.  The findings support the use of local leaders and community elders as change agents because their villagers respect them and trust the information they share.

The additional number of people connecting as a result of the behavioral change activity, means that the programme cost per connection achieved, even after allowing for the small additional investment in these activities, is reduced significantly, explains Tunutu.

Energy 4 Impact recommends that future community energy education programmes include activities to promote the use of electricity for productive purposes, to help identify local business opportunities. “We believe that the Community-Based Energy Education Plan approach would work for government energy agencies and utilities in other countries too”.

The data tells a great story but even more compelling is the way in which the connections are changing lives.  Mr. Twalib Masoud Nandonde, who lives with his wife and four children in Ruangwa district, decided to connect to the grid as a result of the programme. “Electricity is literally enlightening my family,” he explains.  “I have bought a TV to keep up to date with the news and my kids are learning through television too. Their school performance is improving as they have reliable lighting to read and do their homework by.  I am now exploring business opportunities to put our electricity to profitable use.”

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