More than 80 million people live in the DRC. Less than 10% have access to reliable electricity, with the overwhelming majority reliant on candles, kerosene and $5 clay stoves. The population is expected to double by 2030 and with this expansion will come a dramatic escalation in energy poverty and environmental degradation.Already the country loses 1,200 square miles of forest each year, 84% of which is for household charcoal.
The growth in clean energy products - solar lamps, clean cookstoves, solar home kits - provides an opportunity to address this challenge, but with citizens earning on average $1.07 per day and the country lacking basic infrastructure, affordability and access pose significant challenges.
“I know first hand what it is like to live without light and power. When I was a kid we lived in a poor rural house and my parents often had no money for kerosene and we had to spend the whole night in darkness, with my mother struggling to look after us all. One day I remember a candle was knocked over and a mattress caught fire. During the war we fled our village and lived for years in a refugee camp. These experiences are the source of my motivation to help improve daily life in Congo.”
Washikala Malongo, Co-Founder & Co-CEO, Altech
Washikala Malongo and Iongwa Mashangao were born in South Kivu and grew up in IDP camps along the border between DRC and Burundi. INGOs in the camp provided education and helped Washikala and Iongwa attend university in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Both returned to Kivu with a passion to address energy poverty grounded in their own experience of how the energy “trilemma” - cost, supply security and emissions - impacts the lives of impoverished, off-grid households. They founded Altech in 2013 with a model that combines pay-as-you-go financing for customers with an in-the-field distribution network driven by local ambassadors and regional hubs.
In 2014, Ensemble offered an initial loan together with business advice to Altech. When Ensemble first met Altech the company had financed and sold 7,000 solar lamps in its first year of operation. Ensemble’s loan enabled Altech to purchase 15,000 more solar lamps, and by leveraging our support they were actually able to secure a credit agreement with the importer to increase this order to 32,000.
From a base in South Kivu, Altech expanded its distribution network to include both North and South Kivu and the full shipment was distributed and sold. Their loan was repaid within six months. Since then, our loan has been recycled and increased twice.
In six years, Altech has profitably sold and distributed 150,000 solar lamps through a 12 province distribution network, reaching 500,000 people. The lamps are cleaner and safer than kerosene and Altech estimate that each month customers save $5-7. Altech now employs 300 staff and sales ambassadors - largely young people aged between 18 and 35.
In 2017, the generated over $2 million of revenue and in 2018, they won the Swiss RE Foundation’s Entrepreneurs for Resilience Award. Altech has also secure additional external financing. This includes an investment from Persistent Energy Capital that will support their expansion into solar home systems.
Altech is now the largest distributor of clean energy products in the DRC and their aim is to reach 2 million people by 2021. With a distribution platform in place across South, East and West Congo, Altech are now expanding their business model to include other clean energy products, most notably clean cookstoves and solar home system kits.
They are now in a position to secure and manage other outside financing. As a result, our relationship with Altech has shifted from an investor to an innovation and delivery partner. We are now collaborating on a first-of-its-kind Ecommerce application for clean cookstoves, Sombabien.