Penny Mbabazi Atuhairwe’ s professional leaning and academic background was in human rights activism & social work, but when the opportunity came to join a social enterprise changing the lives of rural folk through clean energy, she took it with both hands.
Currently serving as the Executive Director of EN Venture, Mbabazi still finds that her inclination towards serving humanity through advocacy and social work is still fulfilled through EN Venture’s work in rural communities. EN Venture, focuses on enabling rural folk, who in ordinary circumstances would have no access to clean energy, to access clean energy in their homes by replacing rudimentary lamps and firewood while simultaneously getting economically empowered.
Getting the job done
Currently, EN Venture’s target is the bottom end of the population, mainly the rural poor who make less than 3 dollars a day. By supporting community-based organizations in setting up enterprises that sell affordable clean energy products on credit terms, EN Venture creates an income stream that helps to make the operations of these organizations sustainable.
Beginning in the USA in 2014, then coming to Uganda later in 2016, the social enterprise has been refining its model and growing with its partner organisations over the last few years.
When The Innovation village started out, it was the ideal place for EN Venture to set up base in Uganda, given that both entities were riding on innovation to reach their goals and The Village was building the right ecosystem for an organization looking at scaling and growing organically to thrive.
A three-tier model
EN Venture works on a 3 tier model which involves business set up support, capacity building and assessment plus performance review.
The first approach is helping CBOs set up the distribution business for EN Venture’s energy products with financing, usually of 2000 dollars which is about 7.4 million shillings at an interest rate lower than the going commercial bank rates.
The second model is capacity building where they partner with both local and international fellows, mainly students studying entrepreneurship, business management or clean energy-related studies to stay with the CBOs, help them build proper business systems and do research so they can grow.
The third approach is through technology where EN Venture’s envision app enables CBOs to support record sales, orders, inventory and other important data business data. This app is designed specifically for businesses and has an inbuilt dashboard through which ENVenture can monitor sales data and performance of all the CBOs’ businesses, ultimately rendering relevant support as a result. The app also comes with cloud storage, so the data of partner organisations (CBOs) is safe and can’t be lost.
What motivates them?
85% of people in rural areas lack access to electricity and 98% of people in rural areas do not have access to clean cooking technologies that do not release carbon emissions. As a result, the need for clean energy is big and urgent and to fulfil it, EN Venture is partnering with a number of reputable suppliers; Solantis and Delight for solar products, Yugo for energy saving stoves and Purifaaya sprouts for a ceramic water purifier product.
So far EN Ventures has enabled over 87000 people access clean energy.
In their pursuit of eco-friendly living, the organization’s activities have enabled the offsetting of over 56,000 metric tons of carbon footprint that would be adding to air pollution.
Over 2.8 million dollars equivalent to 10.3 billion shillings has been saved annually as income among people being served by EN Ventures both directly and indirectly, and over 169,000 dollars which is 620 million Ugandan shillings has been invested in changing lives through EN Ventures.
To date, Mbabazi says they are working with 91 CBOs across the country a number that has grown steadily from the start.
It’s not easy…
Running the enterprise is not without challenges, Mbabazi says that EN Venture is yet to find solutions to overcome the following challenges;
• Loan repayment remains the biggest challenge to date, but a number of initiatives are being rolled out to improve adherence.
• They experience duplication of products, for example for the cook cheaper item that has lots of inefficient versions on the market.
• Competition in the product range we are building our model on is also stiff which an impediment to rapid growth is.
• Affordability of the products is still an issue to many, in the target group.
Through continuous assessment, Mbabazi says they realized most of their member and partner CBOs fall in two categories. The first category has top performers who are above targets consistently when their operations are audited. “For this category, an accelerator fund has been put in place so they can compete for up to 10,000 dollars (over 37 million) in additional capital and some 4/10 have qualified and this number is likely to reach 8 CBOs by year’s end,” she says. This category can now get into selling some new products EN Venture is pioneering that include full home solar systems ranging from 600,000 shillings in price to 3.2 million shillings.
For the ones which are struggling, Community Energy Savings and Loan Associations (CESLAs) based on the VLSA model have been formed, bringing together CBOs in the neighbouring locations that are struggling to meet their loan obligations.
In her own words, Mbabazi says “as a result, these groups are now mobilized to save and lend within themselves and through these newly formed clusters, peer supervision and review which makes them more sustainable, is ensured.” She adds, “Our role remains to monitor them and we remain signatories to the accounts to control access to capital and collect only the interest due to us from them. Going forward the aim of this model is to clear all unpaid loans and be able to bring more CBOs on board.”
Plans for the future
At this point, EN Venture is looking towards breaking even in the near future and becoming a self-sustaining enterprise which doesn’t depend on grant and donor support. They also hope to enter into other East African countries especially Kenya and Rwanda, so for EN Venture, the work has only begun.