Monday, December 17, 2012

New Field Partner: One Degree Solar brings bright, open-source lighting and more to off-grid Kenya

Welcome One Degree Solar as our newest Field Partner!

When Kiva started working with social enterprises in addition to microfinance institutions, this is exactly what we had in mind. Not only does One Degree Solar (ODS) make adoption of solar lighting easy for low-income, off-grid communities in Kenya, its also building a sustainable supply chain -- complete with client-centric design and awesome customer care.

What makes ODS different from other solar distributors in the region? It does it all:

Product development: It designs and manufactures solar lighting products based on end-users' needs and feedback. This ensures that ease of maintenance and repair are accounted for right off the bat.

Sales: ODS has built a wide network of resellers trained in customer support, product features and more. Equipped with knowledge and products to sell, these micro-entrepreneurs turn a profit for themselves while accelerating solar adoption where it's needed most.

Consumer engagement: Customers are encouraged to interact with ODS whenever and wherever possible. The company offers coupon codes, regularly conducts surveys and provides regular updates and usage tips to keep them engaged and feeling supported.

After-sales support: Too often we hear about development projects that break down as soon as their originators leave -- broken water pumps, broken solar panels, etc. ODS nips this in the bud in several ways. Not only does it provide comprehensive customer service via in-market experts and SMS help via mobile phones, it also designs its products to be easy to fix, and to work with generic batteries and bulbs. Call it open-source solar.

So what does this look like?

ODS's flagship product is a micro-solar home system called the BrightBox, which powers up to four light bulbs and charges virtually any USB device -- including radios, MP3 players and smartphones. With hundreds already in the field, BrightBoxes have proven to be tremendously valuable to households and small businesses alike.

To get specific, ODS found (during one of its routine surveys), that micro-enterprises selling daily goods like bread and sodas made an average of $24 more per week when they had a Brightbox thanks to extra operating hours and foot traffic. At the same time, they were able to slash their energy use by 90%.

Here at Kiva we talk a lot about how critical solar expansion is to reducing use of toxic, pricey fuels like kerosene and wood. But the problem can't be overstated -- especially given the number of small business owners who rely on even more egregious propane tanks and diesel generators. These fuel sources eat up income more than almost any other basic necessity and cause millions of burns, respiratory illnesses and even deaths every year worldwide. They've gotta go.

So where does Kiva come in?

Kiva loans will be used to help resellers buy large inventories of BrightBoxes upfront so they can expand their sales and reach even deeper into off-grid areas. They'll also be used to help end-users afford BrightBoxes for their businesses and their homes. Once installed, they can start pumping up local business, extending study hours for kids and brightening lives in Kenya.

Learn more about Kiva's partnership with ODS here. Or...

(We apologize if there are no loans left -- please stay tuned for more soon!)

Have questions? Send them our way at

Images courtesy of One Degree Solar.