Communication aided by the sun: The Mobile Solar Kiosk

November 29, 2013

How can I charge my mobile phone when there’s no grid connection? Why doesn’t the charging station come to people living in remote areas? Why can’t we have a one-stop shop for our telecom needs? There has to be a solution...

These must have been the kind of questions going through Henri Nyakarundi’s mind when he started to develop the “Mobile Solar Kiosk ” (MSK), one of the winning solutions of the “empowering people. Award”. Henri is currently producing this innovation with the Rwandan-based company African Renewable Energy Distributor (ARED - Twitter: @AFRIKRED).

The Mobile Solar Kiosk is a charging point, which can be attached to bicycles. By selling cell phones, solar lights, airtime and offering mobile money transfer it can also become a one-stop shop kiosk. Since the whole system is on wheels, MSK can go where the customers are or where they gather, such as at market places, churches or bus stops. The unit is deployed in a franchise system, creating new sources of income for its operator.

David Hoffmann: Henri, we know that you don’t simply want to act as an energy provider but to empower people and create job opportunities. Why did you choose to work in the renewable energy sector or more specifically in charging cell phones?

Henri Nyakarundi:
In 2009, after a family trip in Burundi, I realized the need for energy was great. I had just purchased a blackberry and I was having problems keeping my phone charged during the day. I knew there must be better solutions besides carrying your charger with you at all time and asking people in bars or coffee shop to charge your phone. However, after a few months of research I could not find a solution out there that would fit my need. So I decided to design and engineer my own, but I knew with an unreliable electricity grid, I had to find a way to incorporate renewable energy technology in the device. Three years later, we had our first prototype.

David Hoffmann: What has changed since you started ARED?

Henri Nyakarundi:
When I first started the pilot testing in January 2013, the goal was to focus on charging and branding. However, customers started requesting other services and products to be added onto the kiosk. So I decided to redesign the kiosk to implement the products, such as the selling of cell phones and solar lights and services such as airtime sells and mobile money transfer. We are now in the process of becoming a one-stop shop kiosk, not only can you charge your phone but you can also get additional products and services without having the need to travel somewhere else.

David Hoffmann: You are currently operating in a franchise model that basically enables operators of the Mobile Solar Kiosk to work independently. How did you come up with this business model and why?

Henri Nyakarundi:
I realized that if I wanted to bring value to the business I had to adopt a strong business model that could also empower people in the process. I knew that innovation and entrepreneurship can solve some of the issues that exist on the African continent and this is what ARED is all about. So instead of having a kiosk run by employees, why not create a business that give opportunities to people at the base of the pyramid to also run their own business at an affordable rate? So after months of testing, we were finally able to come up with the right recipe. In a world where the majority of businesses fail in the first year, franchise models have a better success rate than traditional models. It allows franchisees to have a support system. As they say two heads is better than one!

David Hoffmann: Yes, that’s certainly true! Considering the large number of cell phones in Africa as well as the unstable electricity supply, such a mobile phone charger seems to be a profitable business model. Combining it with mobile money and airtime business probably seems to be straightforward, and of high interest for any network provider?

Henri Nyakarundi:
The key feature of our mobile solar kiosk is that it will create a uniform distribution channel even in remote areas. Customers will recognize the brand and automatically know what kind of products and services they will receive. This will be of high interest for telecom companies fighting for uniform distribution channels and brand recognition. Also in rural areas, people spend less time on the phone because of lack of access to eletricity and again, we have a solution to that problem. And indeed several telecom companies that are looking for a better platform have already shown interest in the Solar Mobile Kiosk…

Thank you Henri, we look forward to hearing more from you and about your project!

Henri Nyakarundi
Henri Nyakarundi

Henri is the founder and project Manager of African Renewable Energy Distributor (ARED). He has led the ARED team in the testing and launch of ARED’s flagship Mobile Charging Kiosk, and manages the company’s plans for expansion. Over the course of founding and developing trucking and construction businesses in the United States and Burundi, Henri brings to the table a deep knowledge of distribution networks and a proven entrepreneurial spirit.

You can follow him @AFRIKRED.

David Hoffmann
David Hoffmann

David Hoffmann is member of the “empowering people. Award” team at the Siemens Stiftung (foundation). He holds degrees in Economics and Geography and has worked on development issues in the European Parliament and the German Embassy in Moldova. He also worked as project coordinator for humanitarian disaster aid missions.


Project Manager