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Jeremy Leggett in Zambia

On day three of his visit, Jeremy Leggett meets his SunnyMoney colleagues in Zambia to learn more about solar market penetration in this large East African country. Jeremy reflects on the hard work and enthusiasm of the Zambian team. The team that he believes will one day help make solar the most popular and readily available lighting product on the market. 


Mumbwa, Zambia, 5 February 2014

Three hours out of Lusaka, along arrow-straight tarmac roads, Zambian Ops Director Sarah Bentley and I join a team of three SunnyMoney staff doing market research prior to a sales campaign. We have lunch with them: stodgy white balls of ground-and-boiled maize and rubber-tough chicken. Washed down with Coca-Cola, of course.

I get to know them a little. They are all in their early twenties, not long out of university. Elizabeth Lwele, team leader, is from the Copper Belt. Blessings and Muyembe are from Lusaka. Each was picked from hundreds of applicants for their jobs. They are softly spoken and full of smiles, yet ooze enthusiasm for their work. They explain their mission. Each day they each interview twenty ordinary citizens on the streets and in the markets, and five traders dealing in electrical goods.
The questionnaire they use runs to 39 questions, covering every aspect of the interviewee’s consumption and spending,circumstances and preferences. They will do this for ten days. I ask if anyone refuses to be interviewed. Rather the reverse, they say. People come up to them asking if they will be interviewed too.

Once the campaign starts, it will be nothing if not rooted in data, I observe. The sales targets will have some meaning. Already patterns are becoming clear to them they say. For example, kerosene is not the competition here. It is cheap lanterns driven by non-rechargeable batteries.

Many market stalls sell these. And the economics are horrific. People spend a small fortune on batteries. The payback on a solar light can be measured in weeks. Yet we see very few solar lights. On a long walk through the bustling market after lunch, I see none. I imagine this scene in countless towns all over Africa, all over the developing world.

We are going to change this.

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