Mayi Walas

Kuwala Mayi Walas women are dancing and celebrating together in a circle.

The ‘Shining Mothers,’ or Mayi Walas in Chichewa, Malawi’s national language, recruits, trains and supports women entrepreneurs to run solar light businesses across rural Malawi.

Why Mayi Walas – women entrepreneurs are best placed to reach remote areas

In rural Malawi, just 5.6% of the population has access to electricity, leaving millions to rely on dangerous, expensive and polluting alternatives like candles and kerosene. The national grid will take decades to reach the poorest and most remote rural communities, while traditional market models struggle to become profitable in rural sub-Saharan Africa. 

As the primary users of household energy and trusted members of vast social networks, there is growing evidence that women are best placed to bring renewable energy to the most remote areas. Yet, the potential of women as agents of change in bringing clean, safe energy to their communities is not being fulfilled as they face many barriers to running businesses.

The Mayi Walas programme aims to test the impact of supporting women solar entrepreneurs in reaching last-mile communities through access to group-based training, finance and ongoing business support.

Mayi Wala Liness Friday sells a solar light to someone in her community (SolarAid/Chris Gagnon).

How it works – create sustainability and scale

To recruit Mayi Walas, we work closely with Village Savings and Loans groups (VSLs), which operate as small, informal credit unions –  where community members deposit savings and take out small loans.

Once recruited, SolarAid, through our social enterprise SunnyMoney, trains the Mayi Walas in financial management, marketing, the benefits of solar products and conducts ‘market-activation’ activities within the community to boost the Mayi Walas’ businesses by building trust and demand for solar products.

To enable the Mayi Walas to scale their solar businesses, we provide solar lights on interest-free loans funded through our partnership with Lendwithcare. 

After 12 months of selling solar lights, Mayi Walas are then invited to become members of FEBCO, the micro-finance institution established by SolarAid, where they will have access to larger loans and long-term business support.

"I am motivated by seeing the smile of a woman realising she no longer needs to worry about income only coming from what little farm produce she has to sell."
Mphatso Nsewa, Mayi Walas Project Supervisor

The Impact

To date, there are 147 active Mayi Wala groups across Malawi, which have sold 9,179 solar lights resulting in over 45,000 people accessing clean and affordable energy. Access to solar is already transforming the communities that they work in, collectively saving £4.5 million over the next three years as they no longer have to purchase expensive alternatives to clean energy and paving the way for families to move up the energy ladder.

This is the start of the journey for the Mayi Walas and their impact. They are, on average, experiencing an upward trend in sales as demand grows in these deep rural areas. The women will continue to grow their businesses and make more money for themselves and their families. 

The Mayi Walas represent the future of energy access in deep rural Malawi, with their businesses primed to become the ‘renewable energy hubs’ of the area. The sales of solar lights  are just the first step. As their businesses and needs of their customers grow, they will provide access to other product types such as Solar Home Systems & productive-use appliances.

Stories from the ground

Eness is putting hersolar light on the roof of her house to charge it in the sun light.

Meet Eness

Eness Naliwa struggled to feed her family with the small amount she made from her businesses. When solar came to her village, everything changed.

The transformative power of group business

There is power when women come together. Mayi Walas, Margret and Sagurani, know this first hand. From creating thriving sustainable businesses to building relationships with other women in the community, solar lights change everything.

Magret is switching on her solar light so she can see in the dark.

Women are key change makers in their communities.

Your support can mean more women owned businesses bringing light to the most rural areas.

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