By Nicola Abbott
On a mission to provide solar power to rural Zambians, I find myself sat on a 7 (yes 7) hour bus journey from the town of Chipata in Eastern Province back to the capital, and the scenery around me is just breathtaking. The landscape is lush and green, covered in trees with small mountains that rise and fall along the horizon. At odds of course with my original stereotypical imagery of deserts or savannah filled with Zebras. It is such a privilege to have had the opportunity to my work here with Sunnymoney through Challenges Worldwide, to take this trip out into the countryside and get to take a peek at what Zambia is really like for the majority of its residents. To see the people whose lives we are trying to change for the better.
SunnyMoney Schools Programme
We travelled out here to start our Schools Programme where we engage the headteachers of rural schools and ask them to share information about solar energy and encourage their students and community members to purchase our solar lights. We deliver this programme at great cost to the organisation, selling lights at prices that barely cover the cost of importing them, let alone the cost of the field teams trips. We are in part funded for this by DfID but ultimately Sunnymoney aims to cover the cost themselves.
It’s been a fantastic and enlightening experience to travel to some remote areas and witness my colleagues deliver the programme. They have, it seems to me, a hugely challenging task and I have the utmost respect for the work that they do. We drove for long hours each day, getting lost once or twice (I honestly have no idea how anyone ever navigates these areas) which was absolutely exhausting. We even sadly got stuck in the mud one day after it rained! Being rescued by cows was a brilliantly ironic juxtaposition of old transport methods being far more useful and successful than modern technology out in the rural areas.
Providing solar power systems provides a means for rural Zambians to access electricity
Sunnymoney field teams aim to conduct 2 or 3 Headteacher Meetings a day and they aim to deliver a huge amount of information in only about an hour or so. The even greater challenge is that they do not pay headteachers to help them in the programme, to educate and encourage their students and communities. They are only asking. Yes there are small incentives and the Headteachers are always thrilled with their free solar light at the end, but they are asking them to do a lot of work above and beyond their jobs. So within this hour, my colleagues have to figure out how to inspire them, to prove to them that Sunnymoney is here with a social cause that is worth their effort to support. To show that they are there with the intention to improve education by helping students study at night, improve their future prospects and even further, to provide sustainable, affordable lighting for a whole family. Truthfully the responses were mixed. Some were so grateful that we would travel so far to see them and to choose their schools to work with us. It’s so challenging and expensive to reach many of these places, that most firms wouldn’t be able to reach them at an affordable price which is one of the key reasons Sunnymoney conducts this programme and allows them to help communities that truly need it. Others, unfortunately, were suspicious and had little confidence or belief in us. Whilst it’s an innovative and often successful distribution model, it’s flawed in that it’s a challenge to rely so much on individuals to support you when they have no accountability to you.
A Challenges Worldwide Business Support Associate can make observations and offer recommendations
The ethos behind the programme is wonderfully positive with a fantastic social impact. On my part observing the meetings, though, I was saddened to see that Sunnymoney has slightly fallen into the classic old trap of focusing on sales and forgetting why we were there in the first place. The wonderful part of that observation though is because of my position with Challenges Worldwide: I am in a position to help remind them. To use my role as a Business Support Associate and an outside voice, to make these observations where small changes could mean huge improvements.
Fighting poverty through business
It was incredible for me to drive past the many many villages and to be able to visit these schools. It’s given me such a small but worthwhile peek into little parts of rural life. It’s allowed me to connect more and appreciate more the people Sunnymoney are here to help, the people I am indirectly here to help. I am convinced that by helping Sunnymoney to become a more successful and efficient business, I am raising their potential to change even more lives. The ICS programme run by Challenges Worldwide is an amazing opportunity to bring in people with a wide variety of experiences and backgrounds to join together in support of worthy cause with so much potential for long-lasting impact. Fighting poverty through business in big or small ways is so much more sustainable than relying purely on donations. Sunnymoney will continue it’s operations long after I’ve returned to the UK, but I know that they have the potential to grow and change so many more lives and I hope my recommendations will help them to do that.