#10YearsOfSolarImpact: LightBox Africa, taking energy access to rural Guinea to enable people to stay in their villages

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Leila Christel Daher, Co-Founder of LightBox Africa

Tell us a bit about how you decided to create LightBox Africa

We were working on renewable energy projects in Lebanon. We developed an eolic project and then we worked on a very ambitious hydroelectric one in Guinea that encountered environmental obstacles. In the end, the project was not executed due to the high cost it would have entailed but it allowed us to get to know rural Guinea, fall in love with it, and realise that there was this gigantic micro need for energy. The grid just did not reach most of the country.

In Lebanon, we recruited our co-founders, who had experience working with Fosera and UNDP, for rural Lebanese and displaced Syrian populations, and took inspiration from solutions that other players in the renewable energy space were applying elsewhere to take them to Guinea.

We contacted the government, who had already set up an agency for rural electrification. They were very welcoming  to our initiative and helpful. We signed an agreement with the Ministry to provide energy for rural populations and coordinated with them to identify the areas that would not be covered by the grid, and thus would have the highest need for decentralized energy.

We partnered with Orange and Angaza for the tech and payment solutions and we created the company with funds from our own equity, friends and family. Even though we have expanded through debt, we still, as initial founders, hold all the equity in the company, although we are planning to raise equity soon.

And how are you organised today?

We are on a quest to transform lives with sustainable energy solutions. We provide decentralized access to energy via solar home system (SHS) solutions on a pay-as-you-go basis with the ambition of addressing energy poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa, and more specifically Guinea, and fighting climate change.

We are still a small company, where we all have very fancy titles but we each do everything that is needed. We are organised around our CEO, Leila, and in Guinea we have Alfa Kaba, our Head of Operations, who is such a key member of our team from the start that we have invited him to become a Co-Founder and hold equity.

Image: LightBox Africa

We have an agreement with the government, as we said, to identify the areas that are most in need of energy access based on grid expansion plans, and that allows us to have incentives for customs, which can generally reach 40%.

On the ground, we divide the areas we work in by villages, where we identify the chief and talk to them. We create a radius around the village to provide prompt customer service and ensure credit health. At each location, we employ locals and create a point of sale. Alternatively, we identify young people with an entrepreneurial spirit and provide them with a startup package that includes training, a motorcycle, and seed capital so they can create their own businesses. We then work with them as subcontractors.

What do you think has been your impact within the energy access space?

The impact of the pilot project on people’s faces is hard to describe. I (Michel) had a whole speech planned and, in the end, I just spoke from the heart. It touched me to see how important our project was for the villagers. All children were wearing their school uniforms to honour the event, since it’s the fanciest clothing they own.

Image: LightBox Africa

We think that when a country loses its rural areas, it loses its soul. Human values, authenticity, culture… all of them are found in spades in villages. Electricity gives people the chance to stay in their hometowns. They can of course choose to leave, but it should be for the right reasons, not because of a lack of opportunity.  We are creating new enterprises and giving people the chance to stay in rural areas.

As our newest member, why did you decide to join GOGLA?

We decided to join for a number of reasons. GOGLA offers us exposure, a place to tell our story and show the world we exist. It gives us credibility and indicators to use, which help us when talking to partners and fundraising.

Additionally, we hope to learn lessons and experiences from the industry. We think both best practices and mistakes are opportunities for growth and learning. In this sense, we are very excited to join the Working Groups.

What does the future look like for your company?

We see that in the sector many players aim to become international quickly. Our ambition is to maximize our impact in Guinea, to reach and improve the lives of the millions with no energy access. If we look at potential expansion, we see it more as a vertical than a geographical one. We also see potential in expanding clean energy into urban areas.

Image: LightBox Africa

What would you like to see happen in the sector?

Honestly, we think the people we’re reaching should not pay for electricity. We think we’re not making money out of the right pockets and that access to electricity is a basic right. People should not have to choose between food and energy.

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