EP Success Story: Creating Affordable Solar Power through Innovative Social Business

Laura Sykes | February-11-14


Adam Camenzuli, EPt
Executive Director
KARIBU Solar Power
Over 500 million people across Africa have little to no access to safe sources of light and energy. Current options, such as kerosene, produce toxic fumes that harm both people and the environment. Kerosene emits millions of tons of CO2/year and each lantern pollutes over 100kg/year. The economic impact of this energy source is also serious: families waste up to $100 USD on inefficient fuel every year. 
To address this issue, EPt Adam Camenzuli leads KARIBU Solar Power, an innovative social enterprise that offers high quality affordable solar power. 
According to Adam, “We started our social enterprise in East Africa to address the massive opportunity to replace toxic, expensive, and dangerous kerosene lanterns with clean, bright and affordable solar solutions.” Since a major barrier for many families is affordability, KARIBU’s founders have developed a unique social business model that makes solar power as affordable as kerosene.
Find out how Adam Camenzuli’s KARIBU Solar Power was able to accomplish this remarkable feat in the following interview.

What is KARIBU Solar Power?

KARIBU Solar Power is an innovative social enterprise that makes high quality solar power affordable. We produce a modular solar lamp (solar panel, rechargeable battery/charger and light) and employ an innovative social business model that allows the average Base of the Pyramid (BoP) consumer to enjoy the benefits of solar lighting and energy. In Swahili, “Karibu” means “Welcome” and we are working to welcome Africa to affordable solar. 
By paying in small increments, which replicates the required cash flow for kerosene, we make solar affordable. This reduces CO2 emissions/toxic fumes and extends study hours for children. The business model also creates opportunities for local entrepreneurs.

KARIBU's modular solar lamp (solar panel, rechargeable battery/charger and light)


How does KARIBU Solar Power help address some of the issues you’ve mentioned?

There are three key issues that KARIBU Solar Power helps solve: 
Lack of light at night restricts children’s educational opportunities as they do not have a source of light to study. Toxic fumes are a major cause of death for women and children, and many health issues are a result of kerosene exposure. KARIBU gives children the opportunity to study at night, with a light 5x brighter than kerosene, allows families to charge their mobile phones, and eliminates toxic kerosene fumes in the home. 
The use of kerosene emits millions of tons of greenhouse gases every year. Kerosene for lighting emits between 100-150 million tons of CO2/year, and every KARIBU solar lamp sold reduces CO2 emissions by an estimated 100kg/year. 
Families can waste up to $100 USD every year on fuel, further marginalizing them in the cycle of poverty. Lack of light restricts local entrepreneurs and limits economic development. KARIBU saves families hard-earned income and provides profitable entrepreneurial opportunities for micro-franchisees. KARIBU also increases working hours (with more hours of light) for small businesses and improves connectivity (with functional phones) for families and small businesses, which contributes to improved economic development for communities. 
the KARIBU solar lamp address social, environmental and economic issues.

How did KARIBU Solar Power come to be what it is today? What were the opportunities that you saw at the beginning of this initiative?

We started our social enterprise in East Africa to address the massive opportunity to replace toxic, expensive, and dangerous kerosene lanterns with clean, bright and affordable solar solutions. We learned that the major barrier for most people was affordability. 
We went back to the drawing board and developed our new modular solar lamp. This new lamp, in tandem with the social distribution model, allows for high quality solar lamps that are powerful enough to charge a mobile phone, but still affordable as the payments replicate the current expenditure on kerosene. 

KARIBU Solar Power plans to use an innovative franchised business model of “pay as you go” solar solutions. What does this business model involve? 

The KARIBU “business in a box” is an income-producing asset for small shops, making them a more attractive investment. By leveraging the current spending patterns of BoP consumers ($0.30/day for kerosene) and their most common sales channel (small shops), we make our solar lamps accessible to even the most rural consumers, anywhere, anytime.
It works like this. Let’s call our target consumer Alice: 
  1. The small shop buys a lamp (panel, rechargeable battery/charger and light) with an extra battery for $25.
  2. Alice buys the battery portion for $3 and the shop charges the extra battery with the solar panel.
  3. Alice’s children use the light at home to study and the family charges their mobile phone. 
  4. Alice returns the next day and pays $0.30 to exchange the empty battery for the charged one. 
  5. Alice has the choice to continue buying the “charge” at $0.30/day or she can buy the solar panel outright and A) use it at home or B) become her own solar entrepreneur.


You transitioned from a career in commercial banking to work with KARIBU full-time. What motivated you to make this career switch?

I chose to pursue KARIBU because this was a remarkable opportunity to change the way Africa uses energy. In the words of John F. Kennedy: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things. Not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” 
Working with KARIBU full-time has been so much fun – I work 100-hour weeks because I cannot imagine doing anything else. As a team, we saw the solar market was becoming stagnant. New approaches and innovations were needed to address the most vulnerable populations who have been largely ignored. We had to act.

What does the future of KARIBU Solar Power look like?

We envision small shops around Africa carrying KARIBU Solar Power lamps. This produces income for these small shops in addition to changing the lives of end-consumers. We are launching a crowd-funding campaign to raise the required funding to make this solar revolution a reality. Those interested in learning more can email me directly at adam@karibusolar.com, follow us on Twitter (@KARIBUSolar) or join our Facebook group (KARIBU Solar Power).  

What skills are most integral to your role?

Leadership and communication are integral to the role. 


What are your long-term career goals?

I strive to make affordable solar a reality for Africa. The EPt designation is in line with my career goals associated with renewable energy, and has given me recognition for my environmental commitment.