It’s easy to like Washikala and Iongwa. They are young, bright and ambitious and make a good team with Washikala providing the energy and drive and Iongwa the organisation. They grew up together in a refugee camp and went to university together in Dar es Salaam. Now they have a business in Kivu called Altech that sells solar lamps, mainly to teachers.
The kit is basic. There is a wagon-wheel sized lamp with a PV cell on the back to absorb light and charge the battery. Then there is a wire frame to hold and pivot the lamp so you can adjust the angle, plus an on/off button and a socket for charging a Nokia mobile. The lamp is bright enough to light a small room and can be used all night if necessary - assuming it started fully charged. And it costs only $13.
Washikala and Iongwa are targeting teachers for whom a solar lamp is a big help since most have no electricity and find it is difficult to use the evenings to prepare for the following day.
We began working together in January this year at which point they had sold 7000. It had taken them a while – two years in fact. But in that time they put down deep roots, found good people to help them, learnt how the market works and developed an effective approach to sales and payment collection.
Since January they have distributed 25,000 lamps with the help of a loan from Luminosity. It’s been a big effort and they have had to introduce middle management and investigate the use of sales management software on smartphones. These are significant steps forward and will provide a good foundation for distributing another shipment planned for later this year.
They have put forward a business plan that makes a lot of sense and now they have the finance to implement the plan. Which means a lot more people will benefit.