What is your off-grid energy business? Can you give a brief overview? How long have you been working on this business?
Nafa Naana is a social business making clean and affordable energy products available to the poorest households of Burkina Faso. Nafa Naana implements an innovative business model, which combines a microfranchise approach to an adapted microcredit scheme: we develop marketing and financial solutions to strengthen distribution channels for clean and affordable cookstoves, LPG stoves and solar lamps and solar home systems, while stimulating demand. As of today, Nafa Naana has sold more than 50,000 energy-efficient products through a network of 60 microfranchised retailers and more than 100 key accounts (community-based women organizations, associations and federations).
I have started working with Nafa Naana since February 2014.
What inspired you to start working in off-grid energy? Are there any key people who inspired you to work in this area?
I am committed and engaged person in community development. Energy access is a core issue in Burkina Faso. Nearly 3 billion people worldwide use harmful open fire for cooking and 600 million African (60% of Africa’s population) use costly oil lamps or torches for lighting. In Burkina Faso, households rely on firewood for 90% of their energy consumption, thus contributing to irreversibly altering forest ecosystems. Wood smoke has harmful health effects and fuel supply issues exacerbate the economic insecurity faced by women and their families. According to WHO, 16,500 people die every year in Burkina Faso due to indoor air pollution which is mainly due to the usage of inappropriate cookstoves and lighting equipments. Solutions do exist but remain out of reach for the most vulnerable people because of lack of awareness and distribution networks. Every day is an opportunity for us to contribute to improve living condition of Burkinabe through facilitating access to clean and affordable energy solution. We believe that energy is a key pillar to the development of countries like Burkina Faso.
Have you lived in a off-grid community? What is something you want people with reliable energy to know about growing up off-grid?
I have not lived in a off-grid community. But through my work I had the opportunities to spend time in off-grid community. People in off-grid community have inappropriate lighting and cooking habits that affect their quality of life. Not only it negatively affects their health condition but also their economic situation through important expenses (compared to their revenue) allocated to energy. This maintain them in a poverty trap from which it is difficult to get out without external support.
What are the main things you have learned while working as an entrepreneur in off-grid energy? Your biggest success and biggest failure? Key epiphanies or turning points?
Working as an entrepreneur in off-grid helped me understand the huge impact that can be created by small and effective actions. Because of the relevance of our actions, even though we have limited means, we can see the positive impact we are creating on people in rural areas. It helped me believe in the fact that improving standards of living in developing countries like Burkina Faso is possible and doesn’t not require huge amount of money but it is more about commitment and dedication. My biggest success working as an entrepreneur in off-grid is the gratitude that is given to me by the beneficiaries of villages covered by Nafa Naana’s actions.
Kologh Koom is a village of Burkina located in the Centre-Nord region, about 100km from Ouagadougou. The village doesn’t have access to electricity nor to safe drinking water. I was approached as Director of Nafa Naana by a private foundation, which was interested in supporting a local community. It was difficult for them to find a community that could truly benefit from their support. Thanks to my deep knowledge of Burkina Faso, I helped identify the village of Kologh Koom. During the first interactions, I made it clear to the villagers that it would be a win-win relationship and not an assistance based-relationship. I convinced the foundation to support with clean cookstoves and solar lamps for students to be able to study in better conditions than using petrol lamps. My team and I ran awareness activities in the village on the consequences of bad lighting and cooking habits on their environment, health and economy. 50 households were equipped with clean and affordable cookstoves and solar lamps. Thanks to my approach, the village benefited of two clean water sinkings that were lighted by two solar streetlights. More than 300 people were positively affected by my actions. I am very proud of this accomplishment because it showed me that small actions we can lead to big and sustainable impact. I felt very proud when villagers told me how grateful they were to me. I committed that this project will be the beginning of many similar projects in Burkina.
I will rather say challenges than failures. The business environment in Burkina Faso makes it very difficult for off-grid entrepreneurs. Today we have to redesign our business model and make important changes in order to keep creating more and more impact because in the beginning we were much more caring about impact. Today we need to create sustainable impact.
What has surprised you most about working as an off-grid energy entrepreneur?
I have really been surprised by the fact that it is quite easy for us to talk to people in rural areas about energy precariousness. It is an issue they are really facing in their daily life with the feeling that they can do nothing about it. So when we talk about energy issues they are facing because they are off-grid and propose them solution to alleviate their energy precariousness, we are always surprised by the tendency they have to quickly accept our propositions.
What has been most difficult/most rewarding?
The most rewarding is developing a social business in energy access in a country like Burkina Faso in all the aspects; fulfilling a social mission and building a strong and sustainable company.
-If you could share some wisdom with yourself 3 years ago, what would it be?
I will advise myself to always be committed and passionate about the actions I undertake to improve other life. The more you face challenges the more you create positive impact.
Where do you hope to be 3 years from now?
3 years from now, I hope to have an increased my area expertise in rural energy access in developing countries and be able to shape the energy policy of my country whether as a decision maker or as an expert working in the private sector.