Rwanda's ARED Is Creating Employment With Its Solar Powered Kiosks For Micro-Entrepreneurs

Most Afrikans don't have access to electricity. Although the specific number of how many don't have access to electricity is debatable, it is clear that majority of Afrikans are left in the dark when it comes to constant and reliable electricity supply.

This electricity supply issue has a severe impact on how Afrika, as a continent that has largely been left behind, progresses forward economically. With a lot of talk about the fourth industrial revolution and how Afrikan countries should embrace the opportunities it presents, one can't see how this will be possible without constant and reliable electricity supply. What has also been curious is how, generally speaking, Afrika has on average the hottest climate and longer periods with sunlight per day and yet the majority of countries on the continent haven't been able to successfully embrace solar power for supplying citizens with electricity.

The situation seems to be improving though. Take Rwanda for example, where a company is now able to provide a solar power plan at $4 a month per household without any down payment. This price point makes solar power accessible to low-income households.

This is also something that a startup from Kigali, Rwanda is looking to have an impact on, although in a different way.

Henri Nyakarundi ARED
Henri Nyakarundi, Founder and CEO at ARED (African Renewable Energy Distributor).

"ARED is a platform to fight poverty through micro entrepreneurship. One of the biggest challenges on the Afrikan continent, is that we need more low-cost economic opportunities so people can start micro businesses that are very low cost and have a turnkey solution to support the micro-entrepreneur," said Henri Nyakarundi, Founder and CEO at ARED (African Renewable Energy Distributor)., when explaining to iAfrikan why he decided to start the company back in 2013.

One of ARED's offerings is the Shiriki Hub, a mobile kiosk with solar panels, a Wi-Fi router and mobile phone charging stations. The kiosk is offered as a "franchise" targeted at low-income people looking for a way to make a living.

"ARED incorporates solar technology to empower people using a micro entrepreneurship business model. To be in business today, it is essential that access to energy is available or it would limit dramatically the amount of product or services you can offer but also limit the amount of time you can work. Energy penetration is low in Afrika, but also it is costly for low-income people, I truly believe solar technology is key to solve those challenges," explained Nyakarundi.

The idea to start ARED in 2013 began in 2009 when Nyakarundi was in high school in Burundi at the Ecole française de Bujumbura. At the time, because of the war in the region, he left to study computer science in Atlanta, USA.

"I graduated in 2003 but decided to stay to pursue business opportunities. The first business was in 1999 selling water filtration system door to door. It took seven years to build the first successful business in transportation and logistics, said Nyakarundi.

Then in 2008, he moved back to Burundi given the economic crash which made life a bit tougher in the USA. After a year or so in Burundi, he moved back to Rwanda to start a new chapter. That's when the idea for ARED was somewhat conceived.

Entrepreneur charging people's mobile phones on ARED's solar powered Wi-Fi enabled Shikri Hub.
Entrepreneur charging people's mobile phones on ARED's solar powered Wi-Fi enabled Shiriki Hub.

Afrika's population is young and according to some forecasts, it is set to double in the next 35 years. Apart from many other implications that this presents, it also means that at the current rate there are not enough jobs to absorb all the youth. According to Nyakarundi, the next option is to create micro business solutions that people can get in to become productive in society. ARED recruits, trains, and monitors our micro entrepreneurs. They then lease them a solar powered Shikri Hub kiosk and share revenue that the kiosk generates with them.

"We focus on women and people with disabilities because they are the most vulnerable groups out there," said Nyakarundi.

The company has also been receiving international attention. At the time of publishing, ARED was one of the five startups to make the final of Postcode Lottery Green Challenge to be held in Amsterdam, Netherlands. The challenge is one of the largest sustainable enterprise competitions in the world with the winning startup having a chance to win $580,000 (€500,000) in prize money.

Two main components power ARED's offering, namely:

The Shiriki Hub

The Shikri Hub

The solar kiosk can charge over 30 mobile phones at once. It can also be towed using a bicycle or a motorbike and it comes with tubeless tyres for low maintenance. The solar panels can be folded at the end of the business day for safe storage and the lithium battery bank allows the operator to work even at night if necessary.

"The game changer is our router system that will allow anyone with a smart phone or tablet to access digital content stored on the kiosk without the need to store data on their phone or incur network usage cost," said said Nyakarundi.

Interenstingly, ARED is in the process of adding a GPS sensor, motion sensor, and charging sensor to the Shikri Hub so that they are able to better monitor and manage the kiosks.

Software and mobile application platform

This allows ARED to offer their micro entrepreneurs an additional revenue stream where they are able to provide prepaid services such as airtime, and mobile money. Added to this, in Rwanda they also offer e-government services with all that data collected on their backend software system.

As can be expected, the software also allows ARED to supervise their operations in real time from salesto the location of each kiosk and more.

Nyakurundi has ambitious plans for ARED, one of them being to operate 20 Afrikan countries within the next 10 years. The model to scale to other countries will involve a licensing program where they will look for partners in those countries that fit their profile to basically do what they have done so far in both Rwanda and Uganda. The plan is to create a 100,000 micro entrepreneurs on the continent.

"I just want to add that for innovative technology to flourish in Afrika so we can be more competitive on the local and international scene. Afrikan governments need to wake up and be more aggressive on building the ecosystem needed to make that happen, such as access to grants, access to funding, tax incentives, facilitate the development of facilities that can support the development of hardware, etc., so we no longer need to go overseas to look for those solutions and we can find it on the continent," concluded Nyakarundi.

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