He developed and commercialised a mobile solar kiosk, which offers customers a convenient low-cost solution to charge their phones, to browse the web and to have free offline access to digital content on board, such as music, news and information on health and education. It works on a franchise model, giving people the opportunity to run their income-generating micro business.
By Viviana Brun
Everything started with electricity supply
Growing economies need accessible electricity in order to improve life quality, to connect with people and to develop new kind of business and activities. This is not always easy. Even in Rwanda -where solar and other renewable energy sources play a big role in government’s policy to connect 45 percent of the population by June 2018- in some areas people are still cut off, with no facilities. They rely on mobile phones in order to connect to the outside world, but charging devices can be a struggle. In areas with limited access to electricity, people have to make the journey into the nearest town for a single mobile charge.
This lack of available and stable power is a big problem, but it could also represent an opportunity for business and social development. This was exactly the vision of Henri Nyakarundi, who tried to transform this challenge into a good idea. In 2013, he founded Ared -African Renewable Energy Distributor- a hardware, technology and service company who developed a “business in a box” solar kiosk to empower communities using a micro-franchise business model.
This solar kiosk, called Shiriki Hub (the Swahili word for “sharing” Hub) is a kind of shop on wheels, where people could recharge their phone or other small electronic devices, paying a small fee. It can charge over 30 mobile phones at once and it could be locked to offer better security while charging. The kiosk can also be towed using a bicycle or a motorbike and the lithium battery bank allows the operator to work even at night or during rainy or cloudy days.
Beyond charging station
The second version of Shiriki Hub came after the first prototype. Two are the greatest novelties. The new solar kiosk incorporates connectivity solutions such as the Internet and the intranet access via wifi and a backend software system to better monitor performances and sales.
Since the first kiosk was operational, customers were constantly requesting access to the Internet or to digital content. In fact, the available Internet services were quite expensive for the majority of the people. That’s why Nyakarundi decided to develop a low-cost Internet access and to broadcast education content, health information, videos and music in the local language for free, thanks to an offline mobile application. That’s a good and simple way to give everybody the opportunity to be part of the digital revolution. And for those who do not have a smartphone, he added a speaker system that will allow operators to distribute audio content.
The other novelty introduced at this stage is a software system that allows monitoring almost everything that is happening on the kiosk, from the sales to the location and much more. So, Ared can potentially manage and monitor thousands of kiosks with just a handful of people. This is a great advantage for scaling Shriki hub business and approaching other countries.
A win-win sustainable business model
Unemployment is a general problem in Africa. According to the recent “World Employment Social Outlook – Trends 2017” published by the International Labour Organization, “the unemployment rate for the African continent as a whole is likely to remain unchanged from its 2016 rate of 8.0 percent going into 2017, which, when applied to a rapidly growing labour force, corresponds to an increase in total unemployment of 1.2 million”. Entrepreneurship has often been viewed as a good way to solve this issue. However, entrepreneurship requires knowledge, access to capital, training and support.
In order to address the unemployment problem in the region, Nyakarundi had the idea of creating a network of micro-entrepreneurs thanks to a low-cost franchise business. In short, he offers franchising opportunities to people that demonstrate high business potential, allowing them to earn a living. “Many people want to be in business for themselves, but they don’t want to be in business by themselves”, said Nyakarundi, so the micro-franchise seems to represent a winning approach.
For buying into the franchise business people have to pay 50 dollars for man, 25 for women and 10 dollars for people with disabilities and then they get the kiosk and the possibility of selling a wide range of services as phone charges, bus ticketing, prepaid services and electronic vouchers such as airtime, government services, Internet and intranet access etc. The micro-entrepreneurs have also access to a specific training program on marketing and taxes, to maximize income on the kiosk. Kiosk operators make a commission on every transaction made on the kiosk.
Demand is substantial in Rwanda, both for new jobs and for access to electricity and the Internet, which means that Shriki hub has a huge market potential.
Moreover, the Ared solar kiosk represents a win-win system for:
- clients who have access to green electricity and digital content at a low cost,
- kiosk operators that can develop their own business and
- Ared company that is expanding his social business in other countries.
Shiriki hub demonstrates a positive social, economic and environmental impact on local communities.
To keep costs for users as low as possible, Ared aims to generate a significant portion of its profit from advertising on the mobile interface that people use to access the Internet or by providing the possibility for businesses to collect data by conducting surveys.
The charging station could be useful not only for the private sector but also for government entities and non-profit sector. For example, charging stations were used at Rwanda Red Cross refugee camps housing Burundi immigrants fleeing their country’s violent political crisis. Refugees were trained and worked as operators, earning income from the kiosk.
Ared developed also a specific program for people with disabilities to give them an alternative into micro-entrepreneurship. The company discounted the micro-franchise fee to 10 dollars, which includes training, support, access to a solar kiosk and a start-up capital for the business. The target for the future is to reserve at least 10% of franchisees to people with disabilities.