SunnyMoney - Winner of The Unilever Global Development Award

Impact of introducing affordable solar lighting

Award Type: 

Winner of The Unilever Global Development Award
  • $431m saved by families, with families, on average, recovering the cost of their light in just ten weeks
  • 1.8 billion extra study hours, with children being able to do an extra hour of homework each night.
  • 2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide being averted
  • 3.9 million people experiencing better health, with over half of the household noticing improved health after switching to solar light

Rural African communities continue to benefit from SunnyMoney’s unique model that brings clean and affordable light to the masses, helping to eradicate dirty kerosene lamps once and for all.

Around 1.8 million people living in rural African countries likes Malawi, Uganda and Zambia have bought solar lights from SunnyMoney, the social enterprise established to distribute affordable light to those that most need it. And that is a more significant piece of news than it might otherwise sound.

Since being named as a finalist for the Business in the Community's' Responsible Business Awards back in 2015, the organisation has played a pivotal role in catalysing the first two solar lighting markets in Africa, introducing what it says is the world’s most affordable solar light to the market.

No access to electricity 

Almost 600 million people in Africa alone have no access to electricity. Without electricity,  families have no clean source of light, leaving millions to rely on expensive and dangerous alternatives, such as the homemade kerosene lamp. These lamps are a poor source of light, emitting toxic black smoke, and eating up to 15 per cent of a family’s income.

According to the business, kerosene lamps contribute significantly to indoor air pollution which kills over four million people each year globally – far more than HIV and malaria combined. The toxic fumes also harm children’s eyes when they study and cause coughs and infections.

Modern technology facilitates change

But with a solar light, everything changes.

SunnyMoney’s SM100 is a durable, fire retardant, and water resistant solar light that retails at just $5 in Africa – half the price of the most popular solar light on the market.

According to SunnyMoney’s research into the average household size in Malawi, Uganda and Zambia, it estimates that sales of its lights have reached and benefitted 10 million people.

But it has also benefitted thousands more people through providing employment opportunities, training and economic development. Yes, it distributes the lights using its network of partner NGOs and businesses to whom it acts as a supplier by wholesaling solar lights. But the second part of its distribution model works through independent sales agents who are shop owners, kiosk owners, head teachers and entrepreneurs.

Being wholly owned by SolarAid, which shares the same mission as SunnyMoney, means there is no investor pressure and no compromises required. Rather than profit, the organisation focuses on social impact. Each solar light distributed comes at a £4 cost to the enterprise. SolarAid raises philanthropic income to carry SunnyMoney’s work, “and this means that our social goals are never in conflict with our business aims,” it says.

Charitable donations

An independent study by Charity Choice shows just how effectively and efficiently SunnyMoney uses its donations. For every £1 donated to SolarAid, 94p is spent on charitable activities, 5.1p is spent on raising income and 0.9p is spent on running the charity.

As the company says, it is not just selling lights; it spends time and money in hard-to-reach communities, educating them about the benefits of solar and building up networks to kick-start demand. “We have a unique market-based model that overcomes the barriers of affordability, accessibility and awareness to provide widespread access to solar light across Africa.

While investment is increasing in the off-grid sector, it is almost exclusively for Pay-As-You-Go home solar systems, which are too expensive for the customers SunnyMoney is trying to reach, says the enterprise. “While the sector is increasingly moving away from affordability, we are championing it with more affordable solar lights and a proven and unique model which creates vital trust and awareness in the hardest to reach rural areas where the need for clean, affordable solar energy is greatest.”