Q3 Newsletter: A view from the ground

Pay-as-you-go solar is lighting up the lives of Ghana’s micro-entrepreneurs

Written by: Kawien Ziedses des Plantes, deputy director, social performance & capacity building, Oikocredit International.

Micro-entrepreneurs and their families are benefiting from clean, affordable renewable energy, thanks to Oikocredit partner PEG. Photograph: Capture Ghana

Sixty years ago, Ghana was the first west African country to become independent, inspiring others to follow suit. Today, with a rapidly growing economy, it is the fertile ground of a new movement in Africa – the adoption of solar energy.

In June 2017, Kawien Ziedses des Plantes, deputy director of social performance and capacity building at Oikocredit International caught a glimpse of what this means for many Ghanaians – particularly micro-entrepreneurs who, with no assets, stable jobs or credit histories, have limited access to credit, goods and services.

En route to meet some of his end customers, I chat with Prosper, an area sales manager for PEG who is accompanying us on this trip. PEG is social enterprise partner and investee of Oikocredit. An asset financing company, headquartered in Accra, PEG provides solar energy products such as M-Kopa III™ – a solar home system that provides renewable energy to small domestic appliances such as televisions, radios and mobile phones. The company has around 250 employees and aims to provide employment to 1,000 people in each west African country in which it is expanding.

A vendor and PEG customer smiles in her solar-powered shop. Photograph: Barrak_CAPTURE/Capture Ghana

With Ghana’s economic growth, demand for electricity more than doubled over the past decade and the country’s large hydropower station struggles to keep up. Lower water tables, which many scientists believe is down to climate change, coupled with population growth have strained the power station’s capacity. Frequent power outages are common and this is bad for the business of the country’s many micro-entrepreneurs, roadside vendors and restaurant owners. Meat, milk and vegetables spoil during the power cuts and when the sun sets at around 6.30pm, these power cuts not only make it difficult for micro-entrepreneurs to continue working but they also keep customers away from small hospitality businesses such as bars and cafés.

“We offer our customers a number of product bundles: single solar lamp units; a lamp with a TV, or a lamp with a mobile. They pay a deposit and then pay-as-they-go, taking between 12 and 18 months to see off the balance [and own the products]. Payments can be made daily, weekly or monthly,” says Prosper.

PEG customers and their solar-powered home. Photograph: Barrak_CAPTURE/Capture Ghana

It’s this clever pay-as-you-go system which allows PEG’s customers to spread their costs by paying for solar services over time. While PEG’s solar and financial technologies are innovative, their high level of customer service is equally important.

Demand for electricity in Ghana has grown exponentially, but can this demand be met in an environmentally and socially responsible way? Affordable solar power could provide the answer. Solar certainly meets the needs of the many micro-entrepreneurs in Africa. And the pay-as-you-go model makes rooftop solar technology more accessible and affordable, particularly for low-income and remote communities running roadside stalls and micro businesses.

PEG’s award-winning innovative approach is a tribute both to the company’s perseverance and their customers’ belief in the technology, customer service and pay-as-you-go model. But such technological innovations need the backing of patient investors such as Oikocredit who support businesses that achieve combined financial, social and environmental returns for the longer term.

Oikocredit UK and Ireland

The next few months are a key capital-raising period for Oikocredit UK & Ireland, always kicking off with national Good Money Week (8th-14th Oct 2017).

Initiated in 2005, Good Money Week brings together the social impact investing community: individuals, financial advisers, charities, faith-based communities, university groups and financial institutions to help raise and grow awareness of the benefits of sustainable and ethical investment and finance.

National director, Monica Middleton, will spend the earlier part of the week in Scotland speaking at “What Have Faith and Money Got to Do With Climate” in Edinburgh on the 12th October. Hosted by Oikocredit member-shareholder, the Church of Scotland – and supported by Christian Aid, Ethical Futures IFA, Eco-Congregation and the Ecumenical Council of Corporate Responsibility (ECCR) – the event will be attended by over 80 organisations and individuals dedicated to overcoming some of the biggest challenges we face in the world.

On 16th October, in London, Monica will attend the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Associations’ (UKSIF) annual conference, followed by a Co-operatives UK event on 17th October to encourage greater integration among London-based co-operatives. Client and office executive, Archie Pearson, will exhibit at the Association of Provincial Bursars annual conference (APB) between the 3rd and 5th of October, as well as joining the Philanthropy Impact Conference which will be attended by the Princess of Norway on the 11th October.

We very much hope to see some of you along the way!

Scotland

In early September, Archie exhibited at the official launch of Scotland’s International Development Alliance Annual (SIDA, previously NIDOS) in Glasgow. Oikocredit was recently delighted to join SIDA as a UK member, aligning with their pro-active focus on development issues. The event was sponsored by Oikocredit and attended by over a 100 organisations and individuals dedicated to supporting the United Nations sustainable development goals (SDGs).

On 13th October, alongside Oikocredit’s Scottish consultant, David Cousland, Monica will be introducing the Oikocredit investment opportunity to prospective individual and institutional investors. Held at the offices of Foundation Scotland, 15 Calton Road, Edinburgh EH8 8DL (east side of Waverley station), if you would like to attend one of these presentations, please contact david.cousland@fairfinanceagency.com.

 

We hope you’ve valued this third postal newsletter and look forward to issuing our fourth and final 2017 newsletter before the end of the year.

Thank you once again for your continued investments, dividend donations and other support.

With very best wishes,

The Oikocredit UK and Ireland team

September 2017