Project Name: Moving Energy Initiative (MEI)
Country: Burkina Faso
Sector: Energy (solar products) in a Humanitarian Setting
- Used targeted research on refugee’s willingness to pay for energy products to influence firms to invest in their marketing and after-sales services
- Emphasized the dual markets – in the host community and in the refugee camps, making the case for investment in staff at a local level more compelling – for retail and after-sales services.
Use cases covered by this case study:
Tools used in this case study:
The typical approach to meeting energy needs in the humanitarian sector is to directly deliver energy solutions. However, this undermines local ownership and supply chains. In contrast, the Moving Energy Initiative (MEI) took a systemic approach to the bottlenecks to a functioning energy market system for refugees in Burkina Faso. MEI sought to influence local firms to adopt new practices and behaviours and create relationships with rural energy users in refugee camps. This created positive feedback leading to customer loyalty.
The project is grounded in detailed market analysis that required significant field work to meet and interview with a wide range of market actors. This included a careful study of the energy behaviours and preferences of refugees – which showed crucially, a willingness to pay for clean energy products and services. The analysis centred on four systemic constraints, presented below as opportunities:
- Market perceptions: changing perceptions of who-does-what by demonstrating the market potential in refugee communities, by presenting the business case
- Marketing and retail: facilitating direct marketing interactions between energy firms and energy users; reducing reliance on international humanitarian actors
- Financing: challenging the idea that aid agencies must deliver credit or loans, which displace local finance mechanisms such as payment by instalment.
- After-sales: improving the customer experience to boost satisfaction, and ultimately willingness to demand – leading to future demand growth
MEI used a wide range of facilitation tactics to stimulate behaviour change among the market actors in the energy market system. To develop ownership, MEI used a self-selection approach, drawing on market visits and trade fairs to find and partner with 12 firms who had experience and capacity to market energy products in the region, including 2 which were committed to marketing with their own funds.
Because many of the key suppliers of solar products were in the capital city, hundreds of kilometres from the camp, the project focused on mentoring and coaching solar suppliers to expand their operations into the camp and the host city of Dori.
- MEI built relationships between suppliers and SMEs (e.g. energy agents, retailers and technicians) based in the local area, as well as government offices, training institutes (to boost technician skills) and municipal radio (as a source of information for consumers).
- The project influenced firms to visit the area, and set-up meetings between the various actors.
- Energy firms were encouraged to identify and recruit agents to sell their products. With training and financial incentives, agents could better reach refugee communities – to for sales, marketing, repairs and maintenance.
To understand the gendered differences in the market system, MEI supported one energy firm to undertake market research with women refugees to understand their willingness and ability to access energy products. MEI thus sought to challenge social perceptions of women as powerless, positioning them as active market actors, which led to at least two women becoming energy technicians.
Progress on after-sales, a crucial supporting function, required analysis of the system for training skilled technicians. MEI influenced the local training institution to adapt its curriculum to include a module on solar products and systems, which increased the supply of technicians trained on relevant products. They could then be hired by existing SMEs or go out on their own as entrepreneurs. Technicians were encouraged to use visual materials (e.g. cartoons) to build the literacy and knowledge of their customers in refugee camps, increasing trust and improving relationships. As consumers learned to self-diagnose common problems, they saved time and money, and benefited more from their energy products.
While the project ultimately had only a short timeframe, some areas for further facilitation would have been:
- Support the development of financial services such as pay-as-you-go, by engaging finance, technology and telecommunications firms. This could also be offered as an embedded service by forward-thinking solar firms themselves.
- Engage aid agencies to better understand market systems thinking to reduce market distortions.