It’s a supreme example of irony. The tiny African nation of Rwanda has not exactly been left behind by the mobile communication revolution, impoverished as it is. In fact, an analysis of the local cellphone industry there estimates that about 70% of Rwandans have their own cellphones. The irony here is that electricity is such a rare resource in the country that only 18% of the total population has it. Thus the cellphone owners, who rely on their devices not only for communication but for sending money by wireless transfer, often have to jump hoops to keep their gadgets charged.
A startup company founded by a 19-year old Rwandan refugee who had the good fortune of studying at Georgia State University is looking to change all that for the better.
Henri Nyakarundi never imagined himself running a business, but his little invention, a portable kiosk powered by solar panels with the capacity to charge up to a maximum of 80 cellphones at once, has set him on the path to becoming an entrepreneur back in his homeland; and his solar charging kiosks, which is light enough be towed by bicycle, has the potential to generate decent earning jobs not just in Rwanda but all of Africa.
His startup firm, Africa Renewable Energy Distributor (ARED), has already garnered multiple awards and citations for energy innovation thanks to their solar charging kiosk, and its mass production has been ensured by the aid of financial grants from major global companies such as Microsoft. As Nyakarundi tells CNN, “My vision is to create at least 50,000 to 100,000 micro businesses across Africa. It's doable. You're looking at a population that's going to double in the next 25 to 30 years.”
The best thing about ARED’s business model, where Africans are concerned, is that it offers a micro-franchise system. Similar to commercial chains franchising their brand to open new branches, the startup company leases their solar kiosks to agents who then pedal around to areas where their services are needed. In addition to mobile charging, the micro-franchisees can sell additional mobile options like prepaid electricity, cellphone load and government certificates.
Even better, Nyakarundi prefers to take on as ARED agents those who are in dire need of employment, a boon for many jobless. A simple $100 down-payment followed by installments adding up to $200 will suffice to lease a solar kiosk. On average an ARED agent could make anywhere between 30,000 to 85,000 Rwandan francs monthly. That’s about $38-107 a month, quite enough to pay for the kiosk lease and pay for food and living expenses. But if a prospective solar kiosk agent happens to be female or have physical disabilities, ARED waives the lease payments entirely.
At present Rwanda has 25 solar kiosks in operation, but Nyakarundi feels ready to go big in the future, with a planned 600 to 800 kiosks to be open for leasing within the next two years.
Photo Credit to www.gsu.edu