A Social Business Incubator In The Eastern Congo
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Altech

Washikala was born in South Kivu during troubled times and spent most of his childhood growing up in a refugee camp where he met Longwa who is now his business partner. NGOs in the camp schooled the two boys which resulted in a university place in Dar Es Salaam. Following their studies they returned to Kivu and started a business called Altech that sells solar lamps to people living in poor households. 

 
 

altech's Mission

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90% of Congo’s population live without electricity and there are more than 13 million off grid households. They represent the world’s poorest households. Even those with electricity experience frequent power blackouts and have to resort to using kerosene lamps or candles which cause injury, illness and sometimes death. Energy poverty contributes greatly to many socio-economic and environmental problems including income poverty, poor education and health outcomes. These issues make it difficult to achieve other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Altech aims to become the most prominent private-sector player in the business of eradicating energy poverty in the DRC. The company has an ambitious goal of reaching 2 million Base of Pyramid (BoP) customers i.e. off-grid and under-electrified households and institutions serving them – schools, health centres, businesses etc. by 2020, while positively impacting the lives of more than 10 million people.

Ensemble SUPPORT

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Altech had sold 7,000 solar lamps when Ensemble first met them. Washikala put forward a vision and business plan and Ensemble provided a loan of $30,000 to order 15,000 lamps. Altech however successfully agreed a credit arrangement with the importer to order 32,000 lamps, stretching Altech’s logistical capacity and requiring new hands to set up distribution points in North Kivu. It worked. The full shipment was distributed and sold and the loan repaid. Since then Ensemble has recycled the loan agreement three times and increased the amount to $60,000 with the result that Altech have now profitably distributed 150,000 lamps.

Altech’s workforce is now 70 people and with Ensemble’s help they have introduced smart phones that enable trained sales people to use an open source mobile app for recording sales data. In addition, Altech have recently begun a collaboration with ELAN RDC and Ensemble to explore adopting pay-as-you-go business models.

 
 

ALTECH'S IMPACT AND A BETTER FUTURE

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Altech has sold 150,000 solar energy products since its launch and impacted over 500,000 lives. The lamps are cleaner and safer than kerosene and candles and pay for themselves inside two months and Altech estimate that each month a saving of $5-7 is made.

The lamps bring life and light. They are used by shop owners for selling after dark, by teachers to prepare lesson plans whilst children can do their homework, by people to cook, by doctors to carry our medical procedures and nurses are able to catch up on paperwork. There are even cases of operations being enabled by the light from solar lamps.

As a business Altech now employs 300 people in the role of sales ambassadors. These are young people aged 18-35, mostly from disadvantaged backgrounds. They are amongst a generation who will improve the future for Congo. It seems that momentum is building across the continent to bypass the electricity grid and generate power for lighting, heating and cooking from solar, and Altech are stepping forward to take the lead in this brighter future.