Thursday, February 3, 2011

Jokko Télécentres - 3 months of solar energy amplifying mobile technology.

CMC members of Kerewane at work inside their suitcase.

Alimatou and Yoro, Jokko supervisors.
Since the Jokko Télécentres were launched at the beginning of November, Yoro and Alimatou, the two Jokko supervisors, have made weekly visits to the villages that received suitcases to support the CMC members who were trained for the télécentres, and to carry out some evaluation tasks. At the end of December, the Jokko team, with support of the Tostan Kolda staff met with CMC representatives from each village for a capitalisation seminar (pictures) which produced some interesting results on the successes and challenges of the télécentres.

First, a brief review of the project. Jokko Télécentres were launched in partnership with the Rural Energy Foundation (REF) as a response to two needs identified by participants in Tostan classes: a lack of electricity to charge phones, and the high cost of credit.  The télécentres consist of a mobile wooden suitcase where customers can charge their cellphones from a solar-powered battery and buy small amounts of calling credit.  They were launched in 7 villages in the Velingara department at the beginning of November after a four-day training seminar. The main goals of the télécentres were to provide a source of income generation for the participating CMCs, and to act as a focus for social mobilisation regarding easier access to technology, particularly for women and girls.

A solar suitcase with phones charging

People who live in the villages which received solar suitcases express gratitude because the télécentres have removed many of the challenges they previously faced when charging phones. Before the Jokko Télécentres, people reported having to spend 2 or 3 hours travelling to Velingara, the nearest urban capital, to charge their phones at shops where there was no guarantee of security. Phones were often stolen or batteries were swapped for inferior copies.  

A CMC member of Kerewane, one of the villages visited during the capitalisation seminar, celebrated the fact that she could charge her phone in the comfort of her own village, avoiding the journey to Velingara that she would otherwise make 2 or 3 times a week. She also benefited from the lower price for one round of charging a battery. Shops in Velingara charge an average of 200 CFA  (40 cents/$) per charging session. Each CMC set its own télécentre price, and the tariffs range from 50 to 100 CFA. (10-20 cents/$)

The Jokko Télécentres bring solar energy to you.
In terms of income generation, we predicted that the suitcases would generate enough income to pay for themselves within six months. (The start-up cost of 1 télécentre is 150 000 CFA (~ $300) )Three months later, taking into account initial frictions, and the fact that December and January are the months which receive the least sunshine, the highest earning CMC had made close to 50 000 CFA, (~$100) indicating that our initial estimates were optimistic, but that the télécentres are certainly payable within 1 year.

A CMC member holding up the record book of credit and charging sales.

The télécentres are impacting more than the 7 pilot villages. Each village either transports the suitcases to charge phones in neighbouring villages, or they invite members of surrounding villages to charge their phones on specific days. The closest urban centre is no longer the only place to charge phones.

Seddo (the small amounts of call credit transferred phone-to-phone) sales are also strong. CMCs sell an average 2200 CFA (~$44) of calling credit per week. To get a sense of the scale, 1 text message costs 20 CFA (4 cents /$).

The suitcases have generated a lot of technical interest in the areas where they have been deployed. Many villagers have approached CMC members looking for more information on the process and sources of solar power, and Diallo, the builder and distributor of the suitcases has received many calls from potential buyers. It is an interesting example of a point where many ideas meet: Rural Energy Foundation’s goal of facilitating market-based solutions to rural energy needs; the combination of income generation and social mobilisation at the local level; and the expanding access of technology in hard to reach areas.

Posted by Amma Serwaah-Panin, with support from  reports by Malick Niang, Almany Yoro Badji and Alimatou Diao.


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