One of the biggest challenges facing Africa and its citizens is access to clean affordable energy. One young entrepreneur, Nthabiseng Mosia, together with her co-founders in a social enterprise, Easy Solar, is looking to make an impactful contribution to solving this challenge in Sierra Leone, a country particularly hard-hit by access to energy issues.
LoA found out more about this interesting social business venture that looks to positively change lives in Sierra Leone.
What does your company do?
Easy Solar (SL) Ltd is a Sierra Leone based social venture, that makes clean energy affordable to those off-the-grid by offering solar-powered devices on a “rent-to-own” financing structure, enabled by embedded Pay-As-You-Go technology and mobile money. Sales and payments are tracked in real-time on an online platform, allowing for the creation of credit scores and remote customer support. As a last mile distributor, Easy Solar reaches customers underserved by the grid through an extensive network of community-based agents, making clean energy both affordable and accessible.
"Easy Solar (SL) Ltd is a Sierra Leone based social venture, that makes clean energy affordable to those off-the-grid by offering solar-powered devices on a “rent-to-own” financing structure, enabled by embedded Pay-As-You-Go technology and mobile money."
What inspired you to start your company?
Born in Ghana and raised in South Africa, I am a Pan-African at heart who is passionate about building homegrown solutions to the continent’s most pressing development challenges. I was cognizant from a young age about the centrality electricity has in daily life as South Africa's national grid would occasionally go down in my home, leaving my family and I scrounging around in the dark. While I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy mostly decent electricity services, I've also become acutely aware, through my travels around the continent, that many Africans (in fact two-thirds) lack access to electricity and are still using toxic, expensive lighting alternatives. These influences inspired me to pursue a Masters in Energy Finance and Policy at Columbia University in 2014, where I met my co-founders and subsequently started the company.
Why should anyone use your service or product?
Easy Solar’s value proposition is built on the savings households and small businesses can achieve by switching to our products. On the entry level product alone, a small lantern, customers can expect to save $280 over the product’s lifetime, while a basic solar home system with light, mobile and radio charging capacity can offer lifetime savings of more $900. Households can either reinvest this income into more life-improving devices or redirect it into investments in education, improved nutrition or entrepreneurial endeavors. To date, Easy Solar has sold lanterns and home systems which will generate over $300,000 in household savings over the next 5 years.
"As a last mile distributor, Easy Solar reaches customers underserved by the grid through an extensive network of community-based agents, making clean energy both affordable and accessible."
Share a little about your entrepreneurial journey. And, do you come from an entrepreneurial background?
The idea for Easy Solar originally arose while pursuing my Masters at Columbia. My friends, family and fellow graduate students, while mostly supportive, thought I was crazy for passing up the potential for a well-paid, secure job in order to start the company in Sierra Leone but I’ve always felt like somewhat of a square peg in a world full of round holes. While this is my first entrepreneurial endeavor, I have always had an adventurous spirit, and have striven to push the envelope and look for creative solutions to challenges. My co-founders and I submitted our business plan for the idea to several different competitions and we were fortunate enough to win two major ones, along with a couple of hackathons around New York. These grants allowed us to conduct an energy survey of ~1,500 households across Sierra Leone and pilot our business to customers from March to July 2016. Our business plan has seen many iterations but we remain true to our goal of reducing energy poverty.
What gives you the most satisfaction being an entrepreneur?
There is something incredibly rewarding about waking up each day and feel like you're having an impact, a real impact on people's lives. For many of our customers it's their first time having access to any form of electricity. To listen to them share their stories (whether it's how their children can now study better at night, how they feel more secure at night, or how they appreciate the customer service and dedication that our sales team provides them with), that gives me this humbling feeling that I've created something beyond myself; that the work that we do as a company has meaning for our customers and their families. In addition, the challenge of having to constantly learn on the spot, of knowing you'll feel uncomfortable and uncertain on a day-to-day basis is also such a rush. Everyday looks different because you have to respond and adapt and give your all. That's something I find incredibly satisfying to wake up to.
"There is something incredibly rewarding about waking up each day and feel like you're having an impact, a real impact on people's lives."
What's the biggest piece of advice you can give to other women looking to start-up?
Never apologize for wanting a seat at the table and pursuing your dreams. For African women in particular, there will be times, in fact more often than not, when you look around a room (whether it’s of investors, fellow entrepreneurs, or potential partners) and wonder where your place is in this world of white men, this world that you want to be a part of, one of innovators, rebels, adventurers, game-changers. Don't let feeling like an outlier deter you from being the change in representation that you want to see in the world. In my opinion, being daring enough to create something that makes people’s lives better means that you belong there, because that's courage. And courage and perseverance in entrepreneurship are everything. It's not going to be easy and that's not necessarily because you're a woman, that's because entrepreneurship is not for the fainthearted. Being a woman can make it harder, and that means you have to a doubly thick skin. Try to seek out mentors and safe spaces that can help you deal with the challenges that are unique to being an African woman in a western male-dominated space. I have found that this makes all the difference and can help the tough times seem a little less darker and lonely. But most of all, my advice is jump. Go after what you want. Dare to go after your dreams, no matter how ridiculous they or the notion of you being the one to achieve them seems.
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Why LoA loves it….
Finding effective and sustainable solutions to pressing social challenges requires a powerful combination of innovative thinking and out-of-the-box approaches to problem solving, not to mention a passion for making a difference. For entrepreneur Nthabiseng Mosia, and her co-founders of Easy Solar, they are doing just that, providing affordable access to essential energy, and a business model that creates micropreneurs in local communities. --- Melanie Hawken, founder and editor-in-chief of Lionesses of Africa