Electricity is scarce in many developing countries, making it difficult for people to take advantage of new technologies like cell phones and Internet connectivity. In Tanzania, grid electricity was only available to 14% of the population in 2010 and increasing at a rate less than 1% per year. Without this access, Tanzanians turn to wood or coal for cooking, kerosene for lighting, and gasoline generators or old batteries to power and charge any electronics. These energy alternatives pollute the environment and create poor indoor air quality causing health risks for people using them.
Juabar offers an alternative in the form of ready-made solar-powered businesses
Juabar produces solar-powered kiosks that can charge people’s cell phones and other small electronic devices. These kiosks are instant businesses for entrepreneurs who open up a pop-up solar shop in their community. They create a clean energy charging location closer to home, which also serves as an access point to other types of clean energy products. Juabar is putting together a catalog of environmentally friendly products like solar lights and other small solar items, clean cook stoves, and phone replacement parts. Entrepreneurs can also sell other fast-moving products along with baked goods and sweets.
How Juabar was born
Juabar began as a project from their MBA program in 2011. The team spent about 3 weeks in Tanzania doing a lot of ethnographic, qualitative and quantitative research and developing the basis of what Juabar is, which is a solar powered charging kiosk that would be a point of sale location for other types of solar products. The entrepreneur running it would be a knowledgeable and trustworthy source for solar in their community. That’s what they designed for the company that they were working with, but that was too big of a departure for them from what they were already doing. So a year later Juabar team went back with a small grant from their college and a different set of partners to co-design the first kiosk prototypes.
For Olivia Nava, co-founder and CEO of Juabar, practical knowledge and experience are very valuable, especially when you’re working in an environment like rural Africa:
“I found out that there are really no experts unless they’ve actually worked in this space. People might be really knowledgeable about renewable energy, or renewable energy technology, but application is so important. People want to get really enamored by certain application ideas that are just not a good fit in reality.”
Gathering the community around new technologies
The current kiosk is on wheels allowing it to be brought in at night, but the Juabar founders envision a more permanent gathering place for the community to connect to new technologies. Juabar is now testing a new model for a larger kiosk that would be placed more permanently in its location. The next phase of this vision incorporates an electrified screen to broadcast information and programming to the community, and even providing some kind of tablet or computer for Internet access. Juabar is doing more than providing clean energy; they want to gather the community around new technologies. That’s exactly what Juabar’s name suggests: Jua means ‘sun’ in Swahili and, “Thebar is ‘a convivial gathering place.’
Guest post from The Ground_Up Project blog.
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