This past week, two of Vilcap Investment’s 13 African portfolio companies were featured on CNN: ARED, a Rwandan franchise of mobile, solar-powered kiosks for charging phones, and Ojay Greene, a Kenyan company that links small-holder farmers to agronomic resources and previously inaccessible markets.
What do they have in common? They’re harnessing the power of technology to create new jobs in East Africa.
In East Africa, more than 65% of the population have access to a cell phone — but less than 20% have regular access to electricity. Henri Nyakarundi, one of two peer-selected winners of the Village Capital Hardware: Africa 2015 program, saw this problem first-hand in Rwanda and decided to solve it.
Henri designed a mobile, solar-powered kiosk that, in addition to hosting airtime sales and other services, provides a charging point for people with limited access to power in open markets, refugee camps, and major transportation hubs.
On top of that, Henri’s company, ARED (Africa Renewable Energy Distributor) is creating jobs. He likes to call ARED a “business-in-a-box” and designed it as a flexible financed franchise model for precisely that reason — to build a viable source of income for the underemployed — particularly women, youth, and people with disabilities.
Today, ARED has 25 franchised kiosks in operation with plans to increase to 600–800 in the next two years. Franchisees operate the kiosks in a lease-to-own model and give 1% commission on their sales to ARED — the remaining revenue goes towards building a better quality of life for themselves and their families.
In Kenya, Yvette Ondachi is solving a different problem. While small-holder farmers in Kenya technically have “jobs”, lack of information on crop care and disjointed access to information, finance, and markets means that many smallholders farm to survive, not to profit.
Yvette’s company, Ojay Greene, is changing the status quo by empowering smallholders to go from subsistence to commercial farming. Agronomists help farmers master planting, harvesting, and value-adding techniques while optimizing production and creating a stable supply chain for corporate buyers, creating better, more consistent products for buyers and income-sources for farmers. Now, with a new web portal that allows for CRM and SMS integration, they are able to reach 10 times more farmers than before.
When Ojay Greene was peer-selected for investment during the Agriculture: Kenya 2014 program, Yvette wanted to help farmers by starting a more productive farm, but her peers encouraged her to think bigger and find a way to impact farmers all over the country. Today, Ojay Greene works with more than 3,000 smallholder farmers across Kenya with plans to expand to other countries this year.
Who are your favorite job-creating entrepreneurs?