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The voices that matter most

Jamie McCloskey


At SolarAid, we have customers rather than beneficiaries. By adopting a trade-not-aid model, we are ensuring families in rural areas have the choice to buy a solar product.

We need to listen to these families.

Understanding and acting on feedback allows us to improve our service rather than assuming we know best.

In 2019, SolarAid partnered with 60 Decibels – an impact measurement company – to listen to our customers’ experiences in Malawi and Zambia.

By speaking to the 60 Decibels research team, our customers could talk openly and honestly about their experiences with us. The 60 Decibels team used their Lean Data SM approach and turned this feedback into recommendations for how we can improve our work and maximise our impact as an organisation.

So, what did we learn?

Overall, we learnt that we’re reaching low-income families that no-one else is. In fact, over 75% of our customers in Malawi are living in poverty and three-quarters hadn’t owned a solar light before. Our customers told the 60 Decibels research team that the quality of their lives and their families had improved very much because of the solar light – in the words of our customers:

“We are no longer sleeping in darkness and have no mosquito bites.” – Flywell Chisale, Malawi.

“I am so happy with it. I don’t see myself buying other kinds of torches because this one has changed my life. I don’t spend on lighting anymore.” – James Mbendela, Malawi.

“No accident can occur even when I leave the solar light with the children while sleeping such as fires. I have less spending on candles.” – Joseph Buti, Zambia.

These impacts continued – everything from more quality family time to being safe from hyenas at night. Your support makes these impacts possible. One small solar light transforms a whole family’s life.

While we are looking forward to sharing more in-depth positive impacts, we also value the opportunity to share some of the challenges with you:

“Charging the solar lights during the rainy season is a challenge because the light is usually dim.” – VK Mambo, Zambia.

“SunnyMoney should try to reduce the prices for their products because sometimes they are expensive.” – Shida Kaunda, Malawi.

“They should be quick to respond to challenges in time. Agents should be available to address our challenges.” – Boniface Masamba, Malawi.

This feedback is invaluable to us. It is how we make sure we are never standing still. We are dedicated to keep developing, innovating, and improving. Acting on this feedback is essential. We have and we will continue to do so.

As Kat Harrison, Director at 60 Decibels and former Director of Research & Impact at SolarAid, said,

“It’s a real delight working with SolarAid. The team have a genuine desire to understand who they are serving, what impact their work is having, and what improvements they could make. This knowledge is critical for informing design, delivery, and decisions. And this will help us all move closer to achieving SDG7; energy access for all.”

As an organisation working in development, we should never lean back in satisfaction.

We are happy to show you the challenges we face, your support has an incredible impact. Not only do you get solar lights to low-income families in rural sub-Saharan Africa, you let their voices be heard.

Together, we can make these voices heard to the rest of the world.

– Jamie McCloskey, Director of Development