Every life-changing organization started out as a dream, a heartfelt desire to make the world a better place. This hope becomes a reality only through the hard work and dedication of the people involved. So has been the case with Mobisol’s innovative solar products – a pioneering vision to bring light to the most vulnerable is succeeding with the help of a devoted team. It’s important to note the value of those who have been pivotal to this success story from the start. As Nelson Mandela once said: “Remember to celebrate milestones as you prepare for the road ahead.”
Five years ago, Mobisol began operating in Rwanda, just a year after launching their first commercial operations. And where that first subsidiary in Tanzania led, so Rwanda followed, with both countries feeling the benefits of Mobisol’s work. Sylvie Kanimba has been a pivotal member of the Rwandan team from the start; after joining as a Director in 2014 she became Managing Director in 2017.
Ms Kanimba had a dream growing up in Rwanda. She dreamt of a day when every African woman, man and child had their basic needs for food, water, sanitation and power covered so that they could reach their full potential. That dream propelled her through her Bachelor’s degree in engineering, all the way to the IHE Delft Institute for Water Education (formerly known as UNESCO-IHE) in the Netherlands, where she achieved her Master’s degree in Water Supply Engineering.
After her Master’s, she returned to her home country to work as a project analyst and water supply engineer, before joining the UN as Specialist Consultant for the WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) initiative. Despite all her progress, she felt a yearning to do more. “When I graduated from my Master’s my idea was that if we want to help people in Africa one of the crucial aspects is water, they need to stop going for hours just to fetch water so we need to bring the water to them,” said Ms Kanimba. “So this is why I joined the UN. But then I realized the basic needs are actually much more than water and with Mobisol I could help to bring power to people who had no electricity. I think that this passion is what continues to drive me and helps me every time to balance the books and keep striving to make an impact on the ground.”
Ms Kanimba’s experiences in the field showed her that a business model like Mobisol’s can create long-lasting change in developing nations. “I think it’s important to have local people involved from the beginning,” she said.
“There’s a saying that you can give a fish to someone but then when he eats the fish, he has nothing, but if you teach him to fish than you’re truly helping him in the long run. If you help a person to buy a solar home system by paying affordable installments over three years the way we do at Mobisol, then eventually he owns the system. And because he paid for it he takes a lot more pride in that and he takes care of the system. He also sees the impact that it’s having on his life, which is very important.”
Sylvie Kanimba, Managing Director Mobisol Rwanda
Mobisol entered the Rwandan market in 2014 via a partnership with REG and the EU called Prepaid Energy: Rent to Own Solar Home Systems, which is supported by the EDCL. Since then, Mobisol has grown to be the market leader in terms of revenue and from five staff, there are now more than 160 permanent and freelance employees. Mobisol Rwanda has installed a capacity of 2.7MW bringing power to 162,500 rural beneficiaries. More than 32,500 solar systems have been sold in Rwanda (out of a total of 132,500 in the East Africa region) and Rwanda is on its way to achieving the government target of 100% access to electricity by 2024.
The Mobisol Academy has provided key training to more than 400 local technicians and sales staff and to date the level of investment in Mobisol Rwanda amounts to approximately €10 million. There are now 11 Mobisol shops around the country serving customers. Almost 40% of Mobisol’s customers in Rwanda are small business owners. In a country where it’s dark from 6pm to 6am, having power means that these businesses have been able to flourish in the evenings.
Joseph Niyitegeka, a small business owner from Nyabigugu village, has been a happy Mobisol customer since 2017. He uses solar power for lighting, listening to the radio and showing TV in his shop. Since he acquired his Mobisol system on an affordable three-year installment plan via mobile money, he opens until late at night and therefore attracts more customers. He has so far recommended 13 customers to Mobisol through the customer referral programme.
“There are bars, barber shops and small shops that can stay open until late now because they have light. Sometimes have a small area where people can watch TV and it helps them to sell drinks and snacks. So it actually helps create a community and prosperity in these rural areas; it’s transforming people’s lives.”
Sylvie Kanimba, Managing Director Mobisol Rwanda
For Mukamurangwa, a widow living in the Rwamagana district, access to Mobisol’s solar home system has been life-changing. After the 1994 atrocities she was left to bring up her four children by herself. “As a widow with kids to bring up, I always thought that it would never be possible for me to afford an electricity connection,” she said. “However, the moment I realised that it was possible with Mobisol, I never looked back and now I can watch TV from my house.” She is delighted that she now has clean energy lighting so that her grandchildren can do their homework at her house.
For Mobisol Rwanda’s fifth year, Ms Kanimba plans to increase involvement with local partners such as banks to create common solutions for customers, as well as focusing on business to business (B2B) sales and linking up with third party distributors. There are a range of exciting new products in the pipeline, from smaller home systems for those who need less power, to systems of 1KW and above for big organizations.
She has clocked up many career highlights so far but Ms Kanimba is just getting started. The married mother-of-three is passionate about inspiring young girls to visualize entering male-dominated sectors: “We have an association of women engineers and we plan to give talks in girls-only schools to encourage them to enter these male-dominated fields such as business and engineering. I think when they see fellow Rwandese who speak their language who are now MD or director in a big organization, it shows them that they can do it too!”
Mobisol Group has electrified over 600,000 people across East Africa to date, with an installed capacity of 12MW in Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya and Nigeria, saving 60,000 tonnes of CO2 gas each year.