By Betsy Ramser Jaime
Raised by his great grandmother in a village, Francis Mbewe grew up studying with a kerosene lamp. He shares, ‘every month I missed school due to sickness caused by the fumes from the kerosene lamps. It’s an experience I don’t wish any child or woman to go through.’ His grandmother worked hard and put her small earnings towards medication for him.
While his great grandmother and aunties were steadying influences on his life, he was also forced to grow up seeing his uncles abusing his aunties and spending their money on alcohol. Francis explains, ‘I grew up knowing the challenges women go through. I grew up knowing that when a woman is empowered then the whole village is empowered. I saw it through my great grandmother Sofia and through my aunties.’
While some might view these experiences as stumbling blocks, not for Francis. Instead, he’s been able to use his background to change the trajectory of his life and career path. In his own words, ‘I chose to be a Social Entrepreneur so that I can create opportunities for women and girls. So that I can enable women and girls to have equal access to products and services that can put them on a road to economic prosperity.’
And that is exactly what he is currently doing in his social business called, ‘Kukula Solar.’ The aim is to distribute 100,000 solar products to rural and peri urban communities throughout Zambia. More specifically, the goal is that 90% of these products will go to women and girls. By doing this, girls can study for longer periods of time and women can work hard for longer hours.
Francis says, ‘It’s here at Zidisha were we launched this social business and together we have distributed over 3,000 solar lanterns.’ Throughout his partnership with Zidisha, Francis has been able to raise 4 loans with the help of Zidisha lenders.
In addition to his love for solar products, Francis also operates a business center where he does printing work, primarily for students. With an initial loan of $200 in March 2016, Francis was able to purchase additional printer toner for his business center. This allowed him to increase the amount of printing that he was capable of doing.
With his next loan of $321 in June 2016, he set out to buy more solar lamps to re-sell to students and families in his community. He shares that these people don’t have any access to electricity and are forced to rely on kerosene, candles, and batteries. At $10 per unit, Francis intended to purchase 30 units to sell to 30 students and families. Francis predicted that this would allow his solar business to grow by 60% in the first 3 months.
After seeing the success of the previous loan, Francis was ready for another by October 2016 for $580. He had been able to distribute all 30 solar lamps and in doing so, was able to impact 30 families for the better. With this loan he was able to buy 20 regular solar lamps and 10 solar lamps with mobile phone charging stations specifically for female entrepreneurs to offer charging services in his community.
Francis shares the impact of this loan as he says, ‘This loan will impact the lives of more than 2,000 through provision of brighter light for students to study long hours and through provision of mobile phone charging services to the communities that are not connected to the national grid.’
Most recently, Francis successfully raised a loan for $930 in March 2017. This time he set out to purchase 65 solar lamps to sell to low income households. This would account for $780 of the loan cost, while the remaining funds would be put towards transportation costs for the solar lamps.
Francis has clearly found a winning business model where he is able to make a profit and also provide a needed offering to his fellow community members. Looking forward, Francis can clearly see the impact, ‘This loan will not only help me make more profits but it will help students increase their hours of study so that their performance at school can improve. It will also help families save money since the solar lamps only use the sun to charge which is FREE! The other benefit is that through distributing affordable clean energy products to these low income households we help reducing global warming hence contributing to building a cleaner and better world for all.’
Would you like to help another entrepreneur like Francis create a better world for all of us? Make sure to check out the Browse Projects Page to read about our other amazing entrepreneurs.