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When the sun sets in Ethiopia, eight out of 10 citizens must resort to unhealthy lighting sources for basic daily activities like cooking or studying. These sources include kerosene lamps, wood fires, and expensive—but often unreliable—battery-powered appliances.

With support from the Lighting Africa/Ethiopia initiative, a growing number of people now have access to clean, inexpensive solar power to light their homes and grow their businesses instead. The IFC-World Bank program works with manufacturers and distributors of lighting products, among other partners, to build markets for off-grid lighting products and promote their use in sub-Saharan Africa. Shukri Dinsefa, who sells farm products and household goods, including solar lights, to members of his local farming cooperative in the town of Butajira, is one of many who benefit from the initiative.

“Now the children of co-op members can study at night,” Dinsefa says. They are enjoying cleaner air as opposed to the smoke they had to inhale from fuels they used to use.”

Lighting Africa’s goal is to enable the more than 250 million people across sub-Saharan Africa who are living without electricity to gain access to clean, affordable, quality-verified off-grid lighting and energy products by 2030. © Little Sun

Dinsefa stocks lights and other off-grid appliances that meet standards set by Lighting Africa’s affiliate Lighting Global. These standards are important because they allow consumers to identify reliable products, and protect the market from being tainted by an influx of poor-quality goods. Awareness campaigns reaching more than 15 million Ethiopian consumers have also helped build a sustainable off-grid energy sector.

Since its launch in Ethiopia in 2015, the program has enabled more than 1 million people—like Dinsefa and his customers—to meet their basic electricity needs. Ethiopians have purchased 1.3 million Lighting Global quality-assured products.

Those results reflect a worldwide trend: more than 140 million people in over 80 countries are using Lighting Global’s quality-verified products to light their homes and power their businesses. By replacing kerosene-powered alternatives, the global program avoids 2.9 million tons of greenhouse gases every year—the equivalent of removing 364,000 cars from the road.

Ethiopians have purchased 1.3 million Lighting Global quality-assured products since the project launched in 2015. © Maddalena Valeri/Little Sun

Connecting Small Retailers with Resources

Residents of Butajira—a town 130 kilometers south of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa—can also purchase solar lights, mobile phone chargers, and other off-grid appliances from Zemede Mulatu, who runs five kiosks. Mulatu received training from Lighting Africa/Ethiopia in business management, marketing, sales, distribution, and knowledge and maintenance of off-grid solar products.

This foundation helped Mulatu become an entrepreneur. Among other benefits, the training taught him how to engage with local microfinance institutions and help potential customers access the funds they need to buy his products. Results came fast: following the training, Mulatu’s sales jumped from just six off-grid products per month to 50 per month.

Standards set by Lighting Africa’s affiliate, Lighting Global, allow consumers to identify reliable products. © Little Sun

This dramatic increase in sales enabled him to open an additional kiosk. He has trained his own staff so that “even in my absence they can still manage the kiosk well,” he says. Now that he is building a loyal customer base, he’s looking forward to continued business.

But these kiosks offer more than income for Mulatu, and their promise reaches beyond jobs for the employees he hires. The businesses have become community gathering places as well. Customers stay to charge their phones, listen to off-grid powered radio, and enjoy cold drinks from a solar-powered cooler that works even after the sun goes down.

Mulatu’s busy kiosks tell a larger tale about the global need for off-grid energy. During the past decade, this sector has expanded to become an industry that generates $1 billion in annual revenue worldwide.

More than 140 million people in over 80 countries are using Lighting Global’s quality-verified products to light their homes and power their businesses. © Edwin Sithole/Little Sun

Global Goals

Lighting Africa has an ambitious target: to enable the more than 250 million people across sub-Saharan Africa who are living without electricity to gain access to clean, affordable, quality-verified off-grid lighting and energy products by 2030.

That’s what Shukri Dinsefa, who sells the Lighting Global-approved products to his co-op members, wants as well. “Solar lights are the biggest gift we give to our families,” he says.

The Lighting Africa/Ethiopia program is funded by the Scaling-Up Renewable Energy Program (SREP) of the Climate Investment Funds, the Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP), and the governments of Canada, Italy, and the Netherlands.

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Published in July 2018