M-KOPA Solar (Kopa means “borrowed” in Swahili) is a company that sells solar panels to rural Kenyans so they can harness the sun for their power needs, eliminating the kerosene heat and lamps which emit toxic fumes. A customer pays about $35 up front for the panel, which includes an eight-watt panel, two LED lights, a USB phone charger and a solar-powered radio. Each panel has a GSM attached to transmit the usage back to M-KOPA, and the average customer pays about $0.45 per day for their solar power. They pay using their phones, and after 12 months the panel is theirs. Not only does M-KOPA offer cleaner energy and safer energy, the consumers own their panels and have free power after that first year. M-KOPA manages over 10,000 mobile-pay transactions every day and has over 150,000 solar units in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania.
Mobile pay systems like M-Pesa also make clean water accessible to remote villages–all they need is a cell signal. The Danish pump company Grundfos Lifeline has partnered with M-Pesa to provide clean water to African villages that had no access to water aside from rivers and streams. Other attempts to provide clean water have met with political corruption; Grundfos and Safaricom, M-Pesa’s parent, circumvent that by working with communities and the NGOs that help provide the services. It takes about $2,800 yearly to operate the water pump; the costs are borne by residents who have a water smart card that is attached to their M-Pesa account. They swipe the card at the pump, and the amount they draw out is deducted from the smart card balance. It takes about $0.50 to buy 20 liters of water.
Initiatives like these add to the quality of life of thousands of rural Africans; there is certainly room for more global partnerships between traditional financial institutions and innovative companies like M-KOPA and Grundhos to improve the health and financial well-being of millions more.