Lighting Africa: Making a Market

In a continent where nearly 600 million people have no access to electric power and rely on fuel-based technology for lighting, major business and development impact opportunities await companies that can bring clean, affordable, high-quality off-grid lighting products to market. 

This is the vision of Lighting Africa, an IFC/World Bank initiative working to catalyze a market that will supply  250 million people with modern lighting by 2030. In 2010 alone, it helped sell 134,500 products and educated 10.4 million consumers on the benefits of switching from the costlier, more dangerous status quo—candles and kerosene lamps—to solar-powered lighting devices.

Women are key buyers, representing up to 50 percent of this vast growing market. Without considering their specific needs, obstacles, and resources, every marketing strategy will fail—and the creation of this new market with it. Lighting products manufacturers are thus beginning to consider the strong business case for adopting a women-targeted approach to designing, financing, and marketing their new off-grid lighting products for Africa. 

To help the private sector get there, the Lighting Africa initiative surveyed 5,000 households and 2,000 small enterprises in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia, while also conducting a value chain analysis at 40 retail outlets in Kenya. The research found that women hold significant sway in household purchasing decisions on lighting, frequently making the final product choice.

“I choose the lighting device to be purchased, because most of the time, when you look at the children’s father, he leaves this house at 4 a.m. and comes back at 10 p.m. He comes home tired, so he cannot even bother with what we use for lighting,” one Kenyan woman told our team.

The women were also more likely than men to work at or own small retail operations, where low-cost, solar lighting may be particularly valuable. But they will need new financing to afford the products, which have up-front costs that may represent 20 percent or more of a microenterprise’s monthly profit, but become valuable investments over time from avoided fuel costs. Spending $20 on a new rechargeable LED lamp enabled Kenyan fruit and vegetable seller Eunice Wanjiru to generate new income by keeping her shop open two more hours each day. 

In the coming months IFC and Lighting Africa will be working with governments, manufacturers, distributors, as well as with large companies and financial institutions in Africa to share ideas on women-targeted marketing strategies for the new lighting products, spreading proven ideas that have worked in other regions.