SDFA-Africa seeks out communities that are below the poverty line and have limited access to electricity. Most people in these villages rely on kerosene lanterns as their only source of lighting. Kerosene is both dangerous and expensive. When solar lanterns are used in place of kerosene, families are safer and are able to save money that can be used towards other necessities. What SDFA-Africa does to help ensure that the saved funds are used to create economic growth is to facilitate the savings of the funds that would otherwise have been spent on kerosene and once the savings have accumulated, guide the people in using the funds to create an economic venture.
In order to ensure the best chance of success, SDFA-Africa looks to women’s groups that already exist within the village fabric. The women are familiar with each other and trust each other, a key element to the model’s success. The women pool their savings together and it grows as a group. Once the savings has grown enough to be put to use, the group decides on what kind of economic venture is best for them. This is largely based on what the main economic activities are in the area. For some it is agriculture, for some XXX. Whatever the group decides, SDFA-Africa does not interject, but rather provides guidance on how likely the venture would be to succeed and how to best go about its creation and management. The women in the group have control over the process at all times, empowering them to take risks and make decisions. Using the group method helps to ensure that the women are not tempted to spend the savings on other things such as food, water, medical expenses, school fees, or any other of the array of daily needs that the poor are faced with. By accepting the lanterns and agreeing to participate in the group, the women must contribute their savings to the group. With the heavy emphasis on community that exists in these cultures, it would cause great shame for a woman to let down her sisters by not putting in her share.
A unique factor of SDFA-Kenya’s model is that the first lanterns are provided to each woman in the group at no cost. This may seem like a counter intuitive method to the outside business-minded observer. But it is a large key to the success that SDFA-Africa has achieved and proven. Even though kerosene is expensive and unsafe, it is what the people in the villages have always used and it is familiar to them. Often they do not understand the magnitude of the benefits of change, even given the information. For most it is simply deemed not worth it to use their limited funds to front the cost of a solar powered lantern even if they believe it might save them money in the future. Conceptually this is something that is very difficult for a person living in extreme poverty to grasp; their choices on how to spend their money are necessarily short-sided and they can only afford to spend on what will benefit them immediately. By getting the first lantern at no cost, SDFA-Africa is allowing them the opportunity to see the benefits of saving without risking their ability to meet their families’ daily needs. Once they start to save the money that would have been otherwise spent on kerosene, they are able to believe that the switch to solar powered lanterns will actually provide a benefit and they can feel comfortable purchasing additional lanterns.
A critical component of this model’s success is the localization of the design of the solar powered lanterns. SDFA-Africa works to tailor the design of the lanterns to mirror the lanterns used in each village so that the users are familiar with them and more likely to use them. SDFA-Africa is able to provide a safe and cost efficient lantern that looks like what the community has always used, ensuring the most seamless and non-threatening transition possible. The materials for the lanterns are sourced locally which ensures that income stays in the community.
Mwangabora lamps are distributed to women through community groups