Solar energy builds business for women entrepreneurs

While the majority of people are grappling with severe power outages, a microfinance institution has launched a programme to provide economic opportunities for women.

Mavis Madzoke - We believe this project will go a long way in helping us small scale business owners
Mavis Madzoke – We believe this project will go a long way in helping us small scale business owners

Using solar energy initiatives, the Zimbabwe Resources Foundation has given solar kits to 100 women entrepreneurs in various communities in Manicaland. The kits include solar panels, LED lights, mobile phone battery chargers and battery packs that store the solar energy.

The foundation’s Projects Coordinator, Hebert Humbasha, said these products were specifically designed for both urban and rural settings.

“We gave the women all the solar components to start their various businesses using solar energy. They were trained and mentored in areas such as marketing and educating customers as to how the panels work, how to repair broken products, how to charge the mobile batteries and how to manage their stocks,” he said.

Energy problems

“Clearly the energy problems Zimbabwe is experiencing require a modern and innovative approach. Electric power cuts are now a big problem not only in Mutare but all over the country. The black-uts take place daily, so women should now take this opportunity to use their solar energy to develop their businesses,” Humbasha said.

The first project was launched in Marondera East in February last year and is progressing well.

One of the recipients, Hilda Mubaiwa from Zimunya, said the solar business had generated good profits for her. “Demand has been really high and there does not appear to be too much competition here, so it’s a great opportunity,” she said..

Mubaiwa runs a bottle store and a grocery shop that were failing to generate enough income to support her family because of frequent power outages.

Extra hours

“But, now I consider myself lucky as I am one of only a few small business owners in here with access to clean, affordable electricity,” she said. “Since I received the solar kit, I don’t use the candles and I am now selling cold beer and soft drinks among other things that require electricity,” said Mubaiwa.

“I can open my shop for a few extra hours each day. Now I am making a sustainable income by renting out fully-charged LED lamps every evening and charging people’s mobile phones using solar powered batteries,” she said.

Many members of the community have now begun to flock to her place to watch international live soccer matches like the popular Barclays English Premier League and the Champions League matches.

“I have noted that these matches are very popular with the soccer lovers. I charge $1 for entrance to anyone who wants to watch soccer. The response has been wonderful, we sometimes close very late as people would be watching soccer at my bottle store,” she said.

More beer

“This has also resulted in more beer sales as we stay open an average of four additional hours each day thanks to the light provided,” Mubaiwa explained.

Another entrepreneur, Mavis Madzoke, who runs a mobile fast food outlet at Sakubva flea market, said the solar kits helped boost weekly earnings by an average of 15 percent and cut energy costs by more than 90 percent.

“I use the power to heat up the fryers and light up the area during the night,” she said. “We believe this project will go a long way in helping us small scale business owners extend our operating hours, reduce our operating costs and experience the numerous benefits of renewable energy.”

Saviours Magadzire, a member from the Zimunya, community applauded Zimbabwe Resources Foundation for the initiative.

“It’s exciting to see these entrepreneurs staying open longer and earning more, especially as their shops are often the only locations in our neighbourhood with lights on at night,” he said. “The shops with solar electricity have literally become beacons of light in this area.”

Zimbabwe lies in one of the best solar radiation belts in the world, with up to 300 days of sunshine per year.

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