Redesigning Frugal Solar Kiosks in Kenya

Ecobora, founded by Justine Abuga, is a green fuels distribution company in Kenya. The company supplies remote communities with green energy products, such as wood pellets, but given the market and infrastructure challenges in Kenya, this is not easy. Justine saw this as an  opportunity to design and pilot inexpensive ‘rent-a-shelf’ solar retail kiosks to make Ecobora’s green energy products and beneficial goods from other suppliers, more widely available to last mile  communities in Kenya.

This is one of nine projects being piloted by the Global Distributors Collective through its Innovation Challenge, which is made possible thanks to UK aid. The challenge crowdsources innovations from GDC members (last mile distributors), helps to bring the best ideas to life, and supports the broader last mile distribution community to replicate and learn from those innovations.  


Kiosk of the Getembe Women Group in Western Kenya


How do the kiosks work? 

The kiosks cost just a few hundred dollars to construct, and are built by the community for the community, using local materials. In the kiosks, local women entrepreneurs sell bio-fuels, their own agri-produce, and other beneficial products from distributors, who can ‘rent-a-shelf ’ in the kiosk to sell products such as solar lanterns and other fast-moving consumer goods. This way, the community can benefit from green and affordable energy products while promoting female entrepreneurship across rural Kenya.

A pilot of 10 kiosks is currently underway in rural areas of Kenya. The kiosks are leased to women’s groups, or Chamas, that pay off the kiosk in 6 months with the revenues they earn from their sales; after which, they fully own their kiosk. This creates ownership for the entrepreneurs as a basis for sustainability and upscaling. If the pilot is a success, Ecobora will use the same model to open more kiosks in the following years.


The important role of Chamas

A chama is an informal self-help group of women who support each other emotionally and financially. These groups are very common in Kenya, and are also known as micro-savings groups, as they pool together their money for easier access to finance. Chamas are rooted in community relations and depend heavily on trust. They often have some experience in entrepreneurship, for example, being small-scale farming entrepreneurs. A partnership between the chamas and Ecobora is mutually beneficial as it creates a great entrepreneurial opportunity for the women, and provides Ecobora with better access to distribute their energy products to the rural markets that need them. 


Mama Mboga Women Group 



Assessing the solar kiosks’ impact

Starting November 2020, a student team from CFIA’s minor Frugal Innovation for Sustainable Global Development (FI4SGD) is undertaking an internship at Bopinc, in cooperation with Ecobora. Bopinchelps multinationals, startups and SMEs in the design and delivery of socially and commercially viable business models; and is one of the three implementing partners of the Global Distributors Collective, along with GDC host Practical Action, and Hystra.  The students will assess the impact of the 10 solar kiosks in the pilot, focussing on identifying and analyzing key success factors, for example how to select the right products to sell at the kiosk or how to train the women on business skills. This analysis will help Ecobora to iterate their business model, with the aim to upscale their business and provide opportunities for more women entrepreneurs to develop skills and earn a living.

Frugal innovation at its finest 

The kiosk model is an exemplary case of how to do more with less. Using local materials,sourcing local products and benefiting local communities, the solar kiosk creates a bottom-up infrastructure towards inclusive and sustainable development. The student team is eager to dive into this project to support Ecobora increase its performance and impact, with the hopes of rolling out the kiosk model further in the coming years. 


Project Team 2020-2021

Internship provider: Bopinc & Ecobora

Student Research Team

  • Ellen Zwerver (Communications and Media – Erasmus University)
  • Amco de Jong (Civil engineering – TU Delft)
  • Mariëlle Portier (Archaeology – Leiden University)

Academic Supervisor