Every step in a business’s value chain represents a silvery spider’s thread that must tie together. Crucial among these threads in the off-grid solar industry are the field agents who are at the heart of the pay-as-you-go model. In East Africa, where about 70% of people live in rural areas, these agents can reach potential customers spread out far and wide, and their customer support is critical to maintaining long-term customer satisfaction.
It is this ethos that has informed Mobisol GmbH’s commitment to establishing its own agent networks in Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania. Comprehensive training in sales, installation and maintenance techniques is provided to agents through the Mobisol Academy. As Mobisol expands to supply hardware and software solutions through its Business to Business (B2B) partnership scheme – now operating in 12 countries across three continents worldwide and impacting the lives of more than 600,000 people – the academy is a key component in supporting distributors. Mobisol also provides business model advisory, utilizing the knowledge they have built up over the last seven years in East Africa to offer valuable insights to partners in new markets.
The Mobisol Academy has already reaped rewards in East Africa – creating jobs in the region’s precarious labour markets and building up the capacity of rural youths so that they can enjoy meaningful employment that enhances their community by meeting residents’ energy needs cleanly and affordably. And this has even led to rural entrepreneurship, where agents have formed groups to work together under the Mobisol umbrella and developed their skills in taking leadership.
The programme’s latest achievement has been in Ethiopia, where Mobisol has partnered with Vera International Business plc and Rensys Engineering and Trading plc. Mobisol is one of the few companies aggressively investing in an agent network in Ethiopia, thereby supporting the local government’s aim of increasing youth employment and achieving universal energy access by 2025.
Working in harmony is key for success – as the Ethiopian proverb says: when spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion.
Mobisol Tanzania trainer Upendo Nanyaro, who has a wealth of experience honing agent skills in several countries, joined up with Gebray Adahana of Rensys Engineering to lead two week-long training sessions from October 7 to 21, 2018. The sessions were held in collaboration with Lighting Africa and the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC).
One session was held at the ANRS Leadership Academy in Bahir Dar, which is in the Amhara region, and the other was held at the SETI Hotel in Mekelle, which is in the Tigray region. These two regions constitute 27% and 6% of the population in Ethiopia respectively, so having highly trained local agents will help even more residents attain easier access to clean energy. In the near future there are also plans to expand the Mobisol Academy training to Oromia – which is the most populated Ethiopian state, with 34% of the national population – and the SNNPR region, which makes up 10.6% of the population.
In Bahir Dar, Ms Nanyaro and Mr Adahana were joined by Samuel Alemu, Head of Engineering at Rensys, and IFC consultant, Kenassa Deresa Bato. In Mekelle, they were supported by IFC consultants, Dawit Tamrat and Wondwosen Keremenz, as well as Semere Tadesse of Rensys Engineering.
Abraham Mengesha, deputy head of the Amhara National Regional State Water, Irrigation and Energy Development Bureau, backed the Academy by opening the session in Bahir Dar with an encouraging speech. He said he appreciated the role of the World Bank/IFC and Mobisol in organizing the first pilot training of this new technology in the region. He also encouraged participants to fully engage in the training so that they could in turn benefit the rural communities at large.
An in-depth range of sales and customer support techniques were demonstrated to 62 participants, which included solar technicians and other staff working with Rensys Engineering, energy experts from Amhara and Tigray Regional State Water, Irrigation and Energy Development Bureau, and youth enterprises selected by regional government. About a fifth of each group was female and the programme was inclusive of educational backgrounds, with about 40% who had completed secondary education, 40% who already had experience in the solar industry, and 20% who had graduated in electrical engineering at university level.
Through a mixture of practical and theoretical classes, trainees were taught how to become true all-rounders; learning how to best serve potential customers, install solar home systems and troubleshoot if issues arise. Installation and troubleshooting are made simple by Mobisol’s innovative solar product design and German engineering – they are plug and play so that no wiring is required by field agents. Even with such user-friendly design, there are times when products will need a little TLC. This is why Mobisol and their Ethiopian partners are the leading force in the country in supplying comprehensive after-sales support through their highly trained field agents. After all, there is no point selling quality products if there is no way to maintain them for years to come. This dedication to customer care is a key trait of all the Academy’s graduates; the agents who do not work for Rensys Engineering are demonstrating their rural entrepreneurial skills by founding their own youth enterprises to provide sales and customer support to their communities.
“I really appreciate how much these training sessions have given our agents the required skills to carry out quality sales, installations and maintenance in the field.”
Mr Alemu, Head of Engineering & Business Development, Rensys Engineering
Mr Alemu said that thanks to the Mobisol Academy, pressure has been taken off Rensys Engineering because their agents are proving to be so effective. “Before these training sessions, it was up to head office to go to every corner of the country to install the systems, which was time- and resource-consuming. Now we enjoy full confidence that everything required can be carried out by our agents on the ground.”
Ms Nanyaro said she was delighted to see how the participants grew in knowledge and confidence from the start to the end of the training, with even those who had initially been shy enthusing about how much they had gained from the experience. And since the sessions, she has received positive feedback about how the agents’ new skills are helping in their daily tasks.