Solar in Senegal: A Kiva Partner Expands its Impact

Imagine for a moment that you live in a village with no electricity.  When the sun goes down each evening, you rely on the light of fires or flashlights as you cook your evening meal. Your children must study before the sun goes down, or else use the dimly glowing light of a cell phone to illuminate their work. And speaking of cell phones, the only way to charge yours is to travel to a charging station in the nearest town, pay a fee, and wait while your battery replenishes.
Now imagine that you are suddenly offered an affordable, safe, comprehensive way to bring electricity to your home. Imagine what a difference that would make.
For a handful of clients of CAURIE Microfinance, a Kiva Partner based in Thiès, Senegal, imagination became reality this spring thanks to an innovative new loan product CAURIE is testing.

In a pilot program rolled out in a small village outside Thiès, CAURIE and a Senegalese solar energy company partnered to install comprehensive solar energy systems in a handful of homes. These systems include several solar lights and a central battery pack that residents can use to charge small electronic devices, like cell phones. To make the systems accessible for all, the upfront cost was paid by CAURIE, and the villagers will pay for them in monthly installments, just as they would with a traditional loan. CAURIE is rare among Senegalese microfinance institutions for tackling this issue, and the exploration of this loan product is illustrative of their strong, evolving commitment to social impact.

This village recently became electrified, thanks to a pilot program by CAURIE Microfinance.

The pilot launched amid much excitement on International Women’s Day in early March. Representatives from CAURIE visited the village to see the newly installed energy systems. The residents, including all of the children, gathered in the center of the village for a ceremony to celebrate the launch. Presentations from CAURIE leadership were accompanied by a speech from an officer of the local village bank, the organization of women that functions as a borrowing unit for most of the loans CAURIE finances. Speaking on behalf of the entire village, she praised the work accomplished by this partnership, and celebrated the changes it would bring to her community.

The effects of electrifying a village are multifold, and extend well beyond making it easier to find one’s way at night. Better-lit areas reduce crime risk. Electric lighting allows children to spend more time studying and makes it easier to attract qualified teachers to rural schools. A reduction in indoor air pollution created by fires, improved infrastructure, and greater access to knowledge and information lead to better health outcomes, including improved nutrition and reduced fertility rates. Lighting and time-saving devices that depend on electricity allow more hours of the day to be used constructively, boosting small businesses and increasing household income. Overwhelmingly, the economic benefits of electricity far outweigh the cost of purchasing it. In short, bringing electricity to a village is transformative.1

A solar collector harvests the sun's energy for this home in rural Senegal.

The ceremony lasted over an hour and the village children – fifty or sixty, ranging from babies to teens – listened the entire time. Often a child in the back would move to the front of the group to get a better view, so the circle of spectators grew tighter and tighter as the speeches continued. At first I was a little baffled. As I child I grew impatient whenever I was forced to listen to adults talk about adult things for more than ten minutes. Yet these children were transfixed. After a while I realized why. They were witnessing something that would profoundly impact their lives, although they likely did not realize the full extent of this impact. Hopefully these children and this village will be the first of many reached by this partnership.

Although this project was a pilot, you may one day be able to finance a Kiva loan in the form of a solar energy system to borrowers in Senegal. In the meantime, you can check out other worthy loans through CAURIE Microfinance here.

CAURIE's General Director speaks at the pilot program's launch ceremony.
Village children gather to celebrate the program that brought electricity to their village.
Representatives of CAURIE Microfinance visit a newly-electrified village on International Women's Day 2016.

About the author

Anneka Nelson

Anneka Nelson hails from a background in professional services marketing and aspires to a career in global health programming. She has nearly five years of experience coordinating community involvement and giving, public relations, brand awareness, advertising and event planning for Barran Liebman LLP, a law firm in Portland, Oregon. In addition, she serves as Secretary on the Board of Directors of Camp UKANDU, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing hope and joy to children living with cancer and their families through camping experiences. Originally from California, Anneka attended Bowdoin College in Maine, where she graduated cum laude with a B.A. in History and French in 2011. In addition to serving as a Kiva Fellow this spring, she will be training for and competing in the 120th Boston Marathon in April. Anneka could not be more thrilled to join the 29th Class of Kiva Fellows, and plans to apply to Master of Public Health programs upon her return to the States.