As those of us who celebrated Christmas this year flicked on on our festive lights, there were 1.4 billion people globally without access to power, with more than 95 percent of those living in Sub-Sahara Africa or in developing Asia. Bringing power to this side of the planet is solar energy provider, BuffaloGrid, who joined the Business Call to Action (BCtA). Together, they have a commitment to reach 27 million people with solar energy, reduce global CO2 emissions by 11,771 tons and create jobs for 74,000 local entrepreneurs – all by 2020. BCtA is an initiative to accelerate the UN Sustainable Development Goals by challenging companies to develop inclusive business models that engage people with less than US$8 per day to give them purchasing power as consumers, producers, suppliers and distributors. BCtA is hosted by the United Nations Development Programme.
Nearly 500 million people worldwide have a mobile phone, yet have no access to an electricity grid, as most off-grid power in developing regions is provided through highly unsustainable fossil-fueled methods. Therefore, Internet connectivity is exceptionally limited; off-grid mobile phone users might often travel 15-20 km to the nearest third-party charging kiosk. As in the developed world, staying connected is important for communities in developing countries. As a fully charged phone can allow them to do everything from getting the best prices for their produce to connecting with relatives in an emergency.
BuffaloGrid’s inclusive business model combines solar power, mobile money, WiFi and cellular technologies while supporting small entrepreneurship. To reach its enormous off-grid market, the company has developed a unique solar-powered hub system, where mobile phones along with other devices can be charged through a central server. These hubs provide rural communities with reliable and affordable access to mobile communication and internet connectivity.
The hubs are operated by small entrepreneurs – called agents – who can take advantage of BuffaloGrid’s emerging partnerships with online service providers to establish e-education or e-health services in their communities.
The local agents can also use these hubs to promote side businesses such as selling newspapers, food, tea and household accessories. In this way, each hub functions as a community small-business and communication centre. BuffaloGrid aims to deploy 70,000 of these hubs in India and sub-Saharan Africa by 2020, and has plans to bring hubs to refugee camps across Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Each hub is provided cost-free to agents, who receive 30 percent of their total revenue.
BuffaloGrid’s profitability is attached to the benefits its services bring to off-grid communities, because it strongly recognises that a scalable business model not only supports entrepreneurship, but is important in connecting remote communities to a wealth of new opportunities. Once the company’s hubs are firmly established, BuffaloGrid plans to add additional services, including the provision of lights, radio and TV, personal authentication for voting, property sales and other private transactions as well as micropayments for household utilities. It’s ensuring that the company brings lots of business and educational benefits to these remote communities.
Photo Credit: BuffaloGrid/3BL Media