A social investment effort in Malawi promotes sustainable energy technologies in an entrepreneurial framework. Rural Energy Financing and Entrepreneurship Development, or REFED, trains people in how to market and sell solar and wind technologies. Furthermore it educates communities on climate change and sustainability. The goal of the project is for investors to turn a profit while helping people and reducing environmental impacts.
Malawi is among the least-developed countries in the world, with food security and access to clean drinking water as major issues. The vast majority of people in Malawi are not connected to electrical grids, despite government plans to electrify rural areas. Potential village entrepreneurs lack access to startup capital.
Through Empower Malawi, this project provides access to sustainable technologies while training villagers in business development. Working in the Mzimba district in Malawi’s southeast, the public-private partnership promotes solar technology including solar lights and solar cookers, and a wind-powered pump for a local irrigation scheme. Small business ideas, like solar-powered poultry farms, would be funded by a community-run bank.
Helping the planet
Getting energy from the sun or wind reduces dependency on fossil fuels and burning biomass. This makes for better use of available resources, lowering the extractive burden on forests, and decreasing pollution, including emission of greenhouse gases.
The community has already reported major savings from the use of solar lighting. Previously, while a household spent five US dollars per month on kerosene, now a household spends only one to two US dollars per month to pay back an energy loan. People are able to be productive for longer as a result of solar lighting. The solar technology has also eliminated harmful air pollution-like particulates, which cause respiratory illness and death. The project is making communities more sustainable and self-sufficient, contributing to their resilience.
The initiative has graduated from just a one participating village to becoming a regional project with more than 10,000 direct beneficiaries. The project’s capacity building will allow it to grow further, as communities take charge of their own development. Project coordinators also hope to expand their reach by partnering with other rural communities.