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A reflection on 2023

Sofia Ollvid

Looking out the rear window on the year we are leaving behind, we are proud to, yet again, see thousands of homes getting a light switch for the first time. We are seeing children reading by clean, safe light, women entrepreneurs (‘Mayi Walas’) creating flourishing businesses, solar Repair Technicians giving second life to broken lights and shop owners staying open late into the night.

But, we are also seeing the challenges faced – natural disasters becoming more frequent, dry spells becoming longer, financial instability growing. The ever more acute climate crisis holding a tight grip on the most vulnerable communities, and millions of families still without access to light as the sun sets.

In light of this, we know we need to work together to build more resilient communities and to bring clean and renewable energy to the hardest to reach places. As this year comes to a close, we are proud to say it’s been another year where we, with the help of our dedicated supporters, have successfully implemented game-changing innovations to roll out new and promising programmes reaching the poorest. 

Kennedy Buleya’s house brightly lit under the stars. Kondwani Jere/SolarAid.

John Keane, SolarAid CEO says, “A key project has been to scale our groundbreaking ‘Light a Village’ energy-as-a-service project in Malawi as we seek to fast-track energy access for remote households living in extreme poverty and sharing our learnings and results so far with key stakeholders.”

This is echoed by Brave Mhonie, General Manager in Malawi who has spent a lot of time overseeing Light a Village as it has been implemented on the ground. He reflects,I’m proud of the stress testing we did of our programme ‘Light a Village’, connecting 2000 new households in the roll-out of phase II, in total having 2500 families living in well lit homes with solar lighting, consequently achieving 35% community penetration of 7000 homes and the ongoing positive feedback that we are receiving from customers.” 

Meanwhile, in Zambia, we have progressed on our Repair project, upskilling local Repair Technicians and giving second life to broken solar lights, dedicated to share our learnings and to collaborate with other organisations, Karla Kanyanga, General Manager in Zambia, says “One of our greatest achievements in the past year would absolutely be the solar Repair Webinar we did alongside publishing the white paper on repair together with the University of New South Wales. The webinar involved Clasp, UNSW and GIZ and had about 60 participants.”

Repair Technician Brian Nongo his assistant Edson Mwelwa fixing a lamp, Serenje, Central Province. Photo: SolarAid/Jamal Banda.

But success doesn’t come without its challenges, There is a lot of talk about the need for action to accelerate access to electricity for the poorest. This is important. But, it is more important to take grass roots action. This is what SolarAid does and we have to work hard for this action to be noticed amongst all the noise. We have also experienced somemacroeconomic challenges withMalawi experiencing an overnight 44% currency devaluation. This puts real pressure on our operations but also on already impoverished communities,” John Keane says. This is mirrored by Brave Mhonie who states, “It has been difficult working in a volatile macro-economic environment which has made our work challenging both for customers and staff.” For Karla Kanyanga and the team in Zambia, another challenge is the change in weather pattern when delivering stock to rural areas, “The rainy season has been difficult with transportation this past year with vehicles getting stuck. That means we have to change schedules for the upcoming rainy season, which may impact sales.”

Going into 2024, we are excited about the opportunities that lay ahead. John Keane says,I’m looking forward to scaling up our energy-as-a-service work to reach 100% of households and schools in the Kasakula Traditional Authority in Malawi and developing a roadmap on how this approach can be scaled, together with partners, across Malawi and multiple other countries in the region. Testing the energy-as-a-service approach to Light up rural health facilities in Madagascar, Zambia and Malawi.” 

Thank you for being part of our 2023.