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January 28, 2019

How ReadyPay and MTN bring clean energy to rural Ugandans

By Pieter Desloovere in Kampala, Uganda

“I used to walk long distances to charge my phone. Sometimes it would not get full, or they would even steal the battery,” says Christine Nabatanzi, a teacher living in Njerere, in rural Uganda.

“As a teacher, it was also difficult for me to mark the books for my pupils without any lights in the evening. Even my children could not read their books. We were literally living in the dark,” explains Nabatanzi.

In Uganda, some 85% of the people do not have access to the electricity grid. When they need light at night, these mostly rural customers usually use kerosene, batteries or candles. For cooking, they often rely on burning wood and charcoal.

If a customer wants to charge their mobile phone, they need to walk a few kilometers to the nearest town or trading center and pay 500 Ugandan shillings (or 0.15 USD) to charge their phone.

“Here is where ReadyPay comes in as an alternative, a clean and affordable source of energy,” says Daniel Willette, Managing Director of Fenix International, the company that owns ReadyPay.

The ReadyPay is a solar-powered home system that features “a [solar] panel and accessories that enable you to have lighting in your home as well as the possibility to charge your phone,” explains Willette.

Successful partnership between telecom and energy sector

As part of the company’s philosophy, the ReadyPay products target specifically those consumers and households living in remote areas that are off the grid. The majority of those customers own a simple feature phone that can conduct mobile money payments.

“I pay my ReadyPay installments while using my mobile phone,” says Ms Nabatanzi. “Making a payment using my mobile phone is very easy. I just press my phone and I make the payment.”

In order to make their product a success, ReadyPay established a partnership with the leading telecommunications operator in the country, MTN Uganda. MTN Uganda has about 10.5 million customers across the country, representing approximately 50% of the market share.

Together with MTN, ReadyPay has reached over 220,000 solar home system customers so far. This means that over 1 million Ugandan customers now have access to clean lighting and phone charging, according to their website.

“Our relationship with ReadyPay is complementary,” says Martin Sebuliba, Senior Manager, Brand and Communications, MTN Uganda. “We provide the channel, that is mobile money through which the customers pay. ReadyPay provides the energy that powers the phone to enable that connectedness continue.”

Transforming sunlight into energy

“With ReadyPay, my life has changed so much,” she says. “I can now listen to a radio, I can charge my phone, I can read a bible, my children are able to do their homework, and we have lights. We are not in the darkness anymore.”

ReadyPay has major plans for the future and aims to reach the entire rural customer base in Uganda in parallel and in partnership with grid expansion. “Where the grid cannot reach, we believe that ReadyPay is a suitable alternative and an affordable alternative to bring universal energy access to everyone,” Willette continues.

“As a company, we believe that we can achieve universal energy access by 2030. With the scale we have seen in Uganda, we are already outpacing the grid in terms of yearly annual connections, and we plan to continue doing so,” says Willette.

“When I see a neighbor or anyone in the village who lives in darkness, I am going to advise them to come and buy ReadyPay solar so that they also don’t suffer,” says Nabatanzi. “I would be happy if their children also can read their books, that they have light, and can enjoy listening to the radio.”

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How ReadyPay and MTN bring clean energy to rural Ugandans

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