Green Energy for the Poor: The M-KOPA Kenya Model

By Shlomo Maital


   Innovation at its best helps the poor, and uses creativity in its business design, not just in technology.   Here is an example, by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former Nigerian finance minister and World Bank official, writing in the International New York Times. He recounts the M-KOPA system in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, that brings cheap clean power to families:

     “It’s called M-KOPA. The “M” stands for ‘mobile’ and ‘kopa’ means “to borrow”. The company’s customers make an initial deposit, roughly $30, toward a solar panel, a few ceiling lights and charging outlets for cellphones – a system that would cost about $200. Then they pay the balance owed in installments through a widely-used mobile banking service….The solar units are cheaper and cleaner than kerosene, the typical lighting source and once they’re fully paid for after about a year, the electricity is completely free. More than 200,000 homes in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania use M-KOPA’s solar system”.

       That to me is a “wow”.   The idea should spread to rural India and to rural China, to Myanmar, and throughout Africa.   Note how this system combines technology, business innovation (the mobile payment system), and sensitivity to the needs of the poor. Electric power is vital not just for quality of life, but also for education, so that kids can read and do their homework in the evening.

     Special congratulations to the M-KOPA innovators!   They could be candidates for a Nobel Peace Prize.