On Wednesday April 23rd, 2014, the 4th CWS solar center opened for business in Chani! As you may have read on the blog, opening night was pushed back a few days because of a faulty inverter. While the setback was a disappointment, the opening was still a big success. The CWS full time Ghana staff along with my family (who was visiting from the US and Ireland) made it to the big event. Muneera and Salamatu, the CWS solar and water entrepreneurs, were very enthusiastic about the opening. Salamatu (famous for Salamatu’s story) said she was excited for the opportunity to run another business that would improve the lives of Chani community members.
Here are more pictures from the night. Photo credit goes to my aunt Tara Canellas visiting Ghana from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida!
It has been almost 3 weeks since the solar center opened in Kurugu Vohoyili. The solar center entrepreneurs, Ayi and Fuseina, report that business is going well. Community members say the lanterns are useful for cooking, studying, working at night and make them feel safe from scorpions lurking in dark corners. The entrepreneurs say people have been coming to exchange their dead batteries for “fresh ones” and cell phone charging sales are high, especially at night.
Last week on April 2, CWS Assistant- Project Manager: Shak, and I had the privilege of visiting the solar center in Kurugu Vohoyili with the Burro team, Burro founder: Whit Alexander, Burro Country Director: Carol Brown and Business Development Manager: Caleb Darko. Burro is a bottom-up social business based out of Koforidua that markets high quality, life-improving products to low-income and rural populations. CWS has partnered with Burro to bring lanterns, gensets and solar panels to the solar center pilots.
When we arrived at the center, Fuseina was there open for business! There were 34 batteries charging but no phones just yet. Fuseina said that some people still had charge in their phones but they would come. We checked out the solar panels, which had a layer of dust and some mud splotches. The Burro team was helpful in advising Ayi and Fuseina to clean the panels every morning with a cloth and water to remove all dust in order to get the most sunlight possible. Whit also advised the women to use alcohol to remove any residue build up on the AA batteries to make them more efficient. Burro’s mantra of “Do More” shined throughout the community visit.
Shak and I visited 6 households with the Burro staff. All 6 households still had charged batteries in their lanterns. 4 out of 6 households had charged cell phones at the solar center. The 2 households without charge still had charge remaining from before the solar center opened. These households have been conserving their cell phone battery to keep fuel costs down. They used to travel several miles to Tali to charge. I predict that cell phone charging demand will rise over time as the solar center is conveniently located in the center of Kurugu Vohoyili.
Burro Founder, Whit, started asking households about what they used to do for energy prior to the solar center. Most households used kerosene, spending 5-6 GHC on kerosene every 3 days. Now they no longer use kerosene, opting for the cleaner, cheaper energy offered at the solar center! KV community member Alimatu brought out her kerosene lamp to show us what she was using before. It was striking to see the kerosene lamp and Burro lantern side by side. Alimatu asked us if she could use the Burro lantern as a night-light to fall asleep, she had been using a kerosene lamp before. We said yes and her face lit up!
It was encouraging to monitor with the Burro team and to see the fruits of our labor after the pilot. A big thank you to Whit, Carol and Caleb for coming all the way to Tamale to check out the solar center and for all of their consulting.
Yesterday, we arrived in Kurugu Vohoyili nice and early to finish training the women and to start approaching households with lanterns. It has been HOT in Tamale, so we wanted to beat the heat. Ayi and Fuseina were ready to start when we got to the center. As we had explained to them yesterday, they would have to wire the solar panels to the battery and set up the genset all on their own. Ayi laughed when I told her this and said, “oh we will try.” They were able to do it!
We started plugging in power strips and battery chargers in to the genset to ensure that everything was working. Shak and I gave Ayi and Fuseina a few scenarios to see if they were comfortable with all of the information. We pretended to be customers, asking how much it would cost if we charged x amount of phones or x amount of batteries and what that would look like in the sales book. We also tested the entrepreneurs on how many cell phones and batteries could be plugged in at once and had them look to the genset infographic for guidance. They got everything right! We decided to teach them how to use tally marks in groups of 5 to make it easier to keep track of sales. Ayi said they had never gone to school and asked if it was even worth it to try and teach them. Shak and I said yes! And within a few minutes they grasped the concept. Ayi and Fuseina are sharp. We completed training by practicing to insert batteries in to the chargers, opening the battery slots of the lanterns and turning the genset on and off. We decided to let the solar panels charge up all day. This morning, the women will charge the batteries to open for business tonight!
After training, Shak and I visited all 22 households in Kurugu Vohoyili asking families if they would like to participate in the lantern program for 1 GHC. Every single household joined! We briefed each family on the lanterns and the solar center. We told them that they had to pay for the batteries and to charge their cell phones so the women would have money to fix broken parts, to buy more batteries and to earn a profit for their hard work. We also discussed the health benefits of using this lantern instead of kerosene or lead acid battery powered torches. If any household loses a battery, they will have to pay the women 3 GHC to replace it. Everyone seemed excited and receptive to the system. Tonight is opening night. We will head to Kurugu Vohoyili after dark with the rest of the CWS Ghana staff. We can’t wait!
And the solar center entrepreneurs in Kurugu Vohoyili are (drum roll please)… Ayi and Fuseina!
The chairman told Shak and I that Ayi and Fuseina were chosen because they are the most hardworking women in Kurugu Vohoyili. Interestingly enough, Ayi and Fuseina are also the water business entrepreneurs. Now this has pros and cons to it. As we have seen in Wambong, the solar center makes much higher profits compared to the water treatment center. This will allow Ayi and Fuseina to grow their businesses and eventually open a bank account. The entrepreneurs will also be able to market the water business using the solar center. Community behavior change and priorities are different around drinking clean water vs. charging a cell phone. Cell phones are sexy. The immediate reward of being able to call a friend is much more gratifying than drinking a cup of clean water, where the health benefits are only seen over time and are hard to measure. Had the community selected two different women to run the solar center, there would be four women with business opportunities in KV rather than two. Our plan for now is to let the communities select the women for the pilots and go from there.
We were pushed back a day again because of a funeral in a nearby village. The dry season is peak funeral season in the Northern Region of Ghana. In the rainy season, the weather is unpredictable, the roads are bad and families are busy farming, which makes travel difficult. Usually when people pass away in the rainy season, they wait until the dry season to have the big family funeral.
Today, we arrived in KV and the center was looking great, fully plastered and beautiful in the hot sun! We brought the steel poles and solar panels to mount outside the solar charging hub. Community members helped mount the panels. We faced the panels due south at 81 degrees to get the most sunlight possible throughout the year, using this Solar Angle Calculator recommended by staff at Burro. Shak was resourceful and found a protractor to bring to the welder for the poles. He got the angle just right. I was impressed! We used a compass to get the panels perfectly due south!
Once the panels were mounted, Ayi and Fuseina came to start their first day of training. They showed up with big smiles, saying “Nawuni ni dey suhugu”, which means God answer your prayers (also used for thank you) in Dagbani. From past experience monitoring and working in Kurugu Vohoyili, I can vouch for these women and confidently say they are “on their game”. Since implementation in January 2012, their water business has flourished. There has not been one occasion where CWS field staff showed up to KV and found an empty polytank. You rock ladies!
For the solar training, we started with the basics, going over how the solar panels use light energy from the sun to generate Direct Current (DC) electricity, which is stored in the battery and then converted to Alternating Current (AC) electricity through the inverter. AC electricity or “mains” as it is referred to in Ghana is what we use to charge our appliances at home. We explained to the women how to wire the 2- 100 W panels together in a “series” connecting the positive cable of one panel to the negative cable of another panel, which builds the voltage. Then connected the negative cable of one panel to the negative charge of the battery and the positive cable of the other panel to the positive charge of the battery. The women did all the wiring and electrical taping themselves! When it was wired, we turned on the genset and voila! There was power! We plugged in a cell phone and a battery charger to make sure the equipment was working. There were oohs and ahhs from the surrounding crowd.
We discussed how to calculate watt/hours and how many devices can be plugged in based on the battery level. Burro put together some useful infographics: Genset Operating Guide that helped us explain this to the women. To start, the solar center will be charging cell phones and Burro AA batteries for the lanterns. We went over using the sales book to keep track of daily cell phone and lantern sales. We gave the women two containers – one for daily earnings and the other for long term savings. We also went over prices with the chairman and the entrepreneurs and agreed upon 10 pesewas (~$.04) per battery rental and 20 pesewas (~$.08) per cell phone charge. This money will go to Ayi and Fuseina, who can use their profits to invest in their families and to replace batteries or broken parts at the solar center.
Tomorrow, Shak and I are going to continue training day 2 with the entrepreneurs, further discussing battery charging, watt/hours calculations and keeping track of sales. We are also going to have the women completely rewire and put together the genset on their own without our verbal guidance. We are confident they will do great! Tomorrow, we will also be approaching households with lanterns to see if they want to invest 1 GHC in a lantern to be able to rent batteries at the center. More updates to come!
Today marks Day 1 of the second CWS solar center pilot. Shak and I will be leading the pilot in Kurugu Vohoyili. We have been monitoring the progress of the first solar center pilot in Wambong over the past 5 months. The first solar pilot has been a success, Chang Chang and Salima, the solar center entrepreneurs in Wambong, report that cell phone charging sales are high, they are making a substantial profit and they have even opened a bank account! The lanterns used in the first pilot were of poor quality, lasting anywhere from 20 minutes to 3 hours. The solar charging station was not big enough for customers and posed some logistical challenges during implementation. Shak and I hope to address both of these issues in the second pilot!
In February, we took a trip to visit Burro in Koforidua. Burro is a bottom-up, social business founded by American entrepreneur, former Microsoft executive and co-founder of the board game Cranium, Whit Alexander. Burro operates off of their business slogan, “Do More” and markets high quality products to low income, rural populations, allowing people to save more and earn more. CWS is working in partnership with Burro for this pilot using their high quality lanterns, NiMH (nickel metal hydride) batteries, battery chargers, solar panels and solar panel generator (holding the battery and inverter for the panels). We are excited to see their products in action!
CWS decided to implement in Kurugu Vohoyili for several reasons. The village is a
CWS independent community, Ayi and Fuseina run their water business well. Upon arrival today, Fuseina was selling water at the center. Kurugu Vohoyili is located in the Tolon District, it’s a small, remote community of 22 households and is on the lower income threshold of CWS communities (it does not have a school, most households do not have tin roofs, there is no visible farming machinery).
Shak and I arrived in Kurugu Vohoyili this morning and went right to the chairman’s house. The chairman is water business entrepreneur Fuseina’s husband and coordinates community development. We told the chairman that we would like to schedule a meeting with the chief and the elders to discuss a new proposition for Kurugu Vohoyili. The chairman said he would have everyone organized shortly to have the meeting today. Twenty minutes later, Shak and I were seated around a nice, shady tree with the chief, the elders, about 20 small children and some women (including Fuseina and Ayi).
Shak and I gave our pitch for the solar center. We started off by congratulating the community on their water business participation rate and operations. We asked them about their current energy situation. It was as we expected. Most households use cheap lead acid batteries (Tiger Head or Sun Watt) to power low quality flashlights and use kerosene lamps. The elders said that most households own cell phones and have to travel several miles to charge them. We told them about an alternative, cleaner energy option for the community. CWS would be bringing the capital for a solar center (solar panels, battery, inverter), that we would like the community to elect two women to run the solar center and that each household will have the option of participating in the lantern program, paying 1 GHC to receive a lantern. The women will have Burro AA batteries, Burro battery chargers and power strips at the solar center for people to come rent batteries or to charge cell phones for a small fee.
Burro NiMH batteries are better for the environment compared to lead acid batteries or kerosene and are approved for landfill disposal in Europe and the US. Burro batteries do not leak and last longer than Tiger Head and Sun Watt batteries. The women will use the money they earn to invest in their business, to save in case something breaks and to earn a profit. Studies conducted by the UN and the World Economic Forum show that when women make money, they are more likely to invest in their families compared to men.
The community members were excited and the meeting ended in a round of applause. They asked a few questions and we concluded the meeting by requesting that the community elect two women and choose a sunny, secure location so that we can start building the solar charging hub tomorrow. We can’t wait to get started, more blog posts to come!
What an exciting day it has been at the CWS Ghana office! This morning Shak and I accompanied Abiba and Salima, water and solar center entrepreneurs from Wambong, to open their first bank account!
Since the solar center opened in October 2013, Abiba and Salima have been saving up their profits from mostly cell phone charge sales. They want to save their money in the bank to prevent theft, to acquire savings interest, to have money in the bank in case anything breaks at the solar center and in their own words, “to save for something big”.
After doing some rural banking research, Peter, Shak and I decided that Bonzali Rural Bank would be the best fit for Abiba and Salima. They have a bank branch at the University of Development Studies in Nyankpala, which is close and accessible to the women from Wambong. The bank conducts business in English and Dagbani and has employees help illiterate customers fill out deposit or withdrawal slips, which means Abiba and Salima can go to the bank on their own.
We are so proud and excited for Abiba and Salima and hope to help more entrepreneurs open bank accounts in the future!
The metal polytank stand CWS entrepreneurs are now using in a number of communities. The stand allows for the water treatment centers to be moved to different water sources.
Back in June, I wrote a blog post about metal polytank stands and how CWS was going to test them in communities that use multiple water sources. You can read that post here.
Since then, CWS has distributed metal polytank stands to 10 different communities: Gbandu, Jarayili, Kabache/Kasawuripe, Kindeng, Kpalbusi, Kpalbusi, Libi, Tacpuli, Tindan II and Tunga. These are villages that CWS targeted because of the challenges the entrepreneurs were facing in keeping their water businesses open year round. Most of the CWS water businesses are set up next to dugouts where community members already go to get their water. Center implementation next to the dugout is ideal because when women fetch water for household use, they can buy clean drinking water from the centers without disrupting their daily routines.
Women fetch water from a typical dugout in Kadula.
But what happens when people go somewhere closer to fetch water? Well the entrepreneurs who sell water (usually) lose business. The community members living in these CWS villages are practical people with busy schedules. If the village women can save time by fetching water somewhere closer to home, they are going to make the switch and avoid the extra trek to buy clean water.
The CWS field staff observed this in a number of communities. In the transition from the dry season to the rainy season and vice versa, the level of the water sources can drastically fluctuate. In the Northern Region villages, the rains determine how much water is available. New dugouts form for short periods of time, a river can become more accessible or even hand dug wells are used to collect rainwater. With the low-tech nature of the CWS model, the women can move the location of their water businesses as long as there is water to treat.
Children pose by a hand dug well in Kabache/Kasawuripe, where the entrepreneurs decided to move their center to treat water.
With the help of a welder, CWS created the metal polytank stand and modified the CWS model to the changing of seasons and water levels. Some of the water businesses easily adapted to the metal polytank stands. For example, in Kpanayili, Affilua, Anatu, Fati and Zilifau used their metal polytank stand to move the center to a closer dugout that only has water in the rainy season. Their sales drastically increased when they switched water sources. In Tacpuli, Lasinche moved the water business from the dugout to a smaller dugout closer to the community. Kpanayili and Tacpuli have been operating with the new stands just as the CWS field staff envisioned. And the entrepreneurs have reaped the benefits.
The water business owners in Kpanayili from left to right: Zilifau, Affilua, Fati and Anatu.
The smaller dugout in Tacpuli.
The entrepreneurs have lower sales during the rainy season because community members have the option to collect free, clean rainwater instead of buying water from the centers. In Libi and Kpalbusi, the rains delayed their transition to using the metal polytank stands. In Libi, the water business entrepreneur, Cheriba, banked on her community collecting rainwater in July and August because she was busy on her farm. As a result, the water business was left empty at the river where nobody goes to get water this time of year. The CWS field staff is working with her to bring the center to a closer source, so people will have the option to buy clean water when the rains stop. In Kpalbusi, Huseifa, Zilifau and Maria moved their water business from the dugout to the center of town to treat rainwater. The problem was they were not receiving enough rain to treat. Their center was empty all of July. As of the beginning of August, the entrepreneurs have moved the business to a nearby stream where they will be able to keep the center up and running until the dry season.
An example of how water levels can change in the Northern Region. Here is a road flooded by a stream in Tamale after a heavy rain.
With the drastic change in water levels throughout the year, the CWS entrepreneurs have to alter the way they do business. This could mean treating rainwater, dealing with the change in sales from the dry season peaks to the rainy season lows, or even moving location. In the past, CWS has found that it can take a year of dealing with these challenges for the entrepreneurs to become familiar with the way their individual businesses operate. The metal polytank stands are going to be added to this equation of business operations. The entrepreneurs are going to have to ask themselves: When should we move the centers? Where are people going to fetch water? What location will bring in the highest sales? Who can I find to help us move the centers? This will take some getting used to. But the metal polytank stands should help in keeping these businesses open year round, which is the end goal after all.
March 22, 2013 — Today the CWS Tamale staff hosted 15 water business entrepreneurs at the CWS office to celebrate World Water Day. This is a tradition at CWS. Every year on World Water Day a selected group of women are invited! Now that CWS has 49 water businesses with about 90+ entrepreneurs*, how do we choose which entrepreneurs to invite? This task wasn’t easy because the staff has their favorites! Personally, I’m all for inviting the women from Kpachiyili every year… I guess I’m partial to my fellowship village (aren’t we all?). If Amin had it is way, Ayi from Yakura would be top of the list. But with only 6 staff members in Tamale, it would not be feasible to invite them all.
We agreed that we should invite a diverse group of entrepreneurs… Some entrepreneurs who run really successful water businesses, some entrepreneurs that have problems with their water businesses and finally some older villages and newly implemented ones. The list was made. We invited the entrepreneurs from Kpalbusi, Kpanayili, Tacpuli, Chani, Zanzagu Yipela, Kadula, Yipela and Nekpegu! Some of these villages are 2 hours away from Tamale, so the logistics of getting all of the entrepreneurs to the office at the same time were complicated. But the staff worked together and managed to get them here before the presentations began!
This year for World Water Day we focused on bringing the entrepreneurs together so they could learn from the successes and failures of each other. The CWS Tamale staff, Kathryn, Peter, Shak, Wahab, Amin and myself, have been planning this day for over a month. Shak, Peter, Amin and Wahab put together an interactive presentation to share their insights as field staff members and to engage the women in conversation.
As field staff, we’re in the villages every day meeting with the entrepreneurs. We listen to their problems, ask them their opinions and give them advice on how to fix them. But we’re not the ones carrying 40 L garrawas from the dugouts into the blue drums day in and day out. Sometimes it’s more powerful to hear advice from other water business entrepreneurs. Wahab focused his presentation on household hygiene and center upkeep. He asked the women, “How do you keep the clean water at your centers from getting contaminated?” At first, there were crickets, no one spoke. But the young Binto from Yipela was courageous and spoke first. She talked about thoroughly cleaning the blue drums and the polytank before every treatment. This really broke the ice for all of the other entrepreneurs who gladly jumped in to add to the discussion. Every single woman spoke or responded to a question throughout the presentation. They were really into it!
One of the themes CWS touched upon this year at World Water Day was, “Running the Water Businesses like Businesses”. Shak led the discussion on this subject. The entrepreneurs that run their water treatment centers as businesses perform the highest. They have the most customers, they treat the most water, they earn the highest profits and their centers stay open for more months out of the year. Of course, many of the entrepreneurs do have moral ties to selling clean drinking water to their communities. But when an altruistic motivation is what drives the center, the women are more likely to sell water for free or pull money from their own pockets to keep the centers running. This isn’t sustainable in the long run.
The CWS staff decided to invite Fati and Ramatu from the newly implemented Nekpegu. After only 2 months since opening day, they are already earning high profits. Shak invited Ramatu to come to the front and share her strategies on operating these centers like businesses. She explained to the women that she always keeps water in her polytank, she has a big opening day every Friday and the women keep track of the households to make sure that everyone is coming. If ever they have a problem, they incorporate the chairman, who has more pull in influencing village behavior. It was awesome! She was really comfortable in front of the big crowd.
The UN declared that World Water Day 2013 would be the International Year of Water Cooperation, so I find it fitting that the staff came together this year with the water business entrepreneurs. Shak always says, ” We (the staff) are not the ones drinking water in these villages.” He’s right. We don’t drink the water, we don’t know what it’s like to live in a village, and we don’t have all the answers. But by incorporating the entrepreneurs into the conversation, we might just be onto something here.
* The number of entrepreneurs running the water businesses is not fixed. Some women quit to focus on other priorities like farming or taking care of their families. Other times, women are added… more hands make for lighter work!
When I was grocery shopping in Tamale a few weeks ago, I came across a woman selling bread at a food stand with a banner written across the top that read, “To be a woman is not easy”. Almost all the shops in Tamale have storefront names with powerful and sometimes silly sayings such as this one. To give you some examples, “Everything by God”, “Serious Man Hot Food”, “Jesus Loves You Barber Shop” or “Home Sweet Home Kenkey”. The names usually make me chuckle but this one made me think.
I immediately thought of the women entrepreneurs that run the water treatment centers in the CWS communities. They are the complete embodiment of this very shop name… to be a woman is not easy in the slightest, especially in a rural village outside of Tamale.
Lydia, one of the women who runs the water business in Sakpalua, recently talked to Spring 2012 fellow, Chelsea Hodgkins, about what it means to be a woman in Sakpalua versus a woman living in Tamale. “The women in the city have it easy”, Lydia told Chelsea. “In the village, the women go to their farms very early in the morning and then are expected to come home, take care of the children then clean and cook for the family”, she continued. After hearing snippets of their conversation, I wanted to hear more about the lives of the women who run the water businesses on top of farming and taking care of their families.
Right now is one of the busiest times of the year for subsistence farmers because it is the peak of the harvest season in the Northern Region of Ghana. After the rains, everyone wants to collect their crops before it gets too dry. Some farmers leave as early as 4:00 AM so they can start working in the morning while it’s still cool. Farmers harvest groundnuts, maize, yam, soy beans, cassava, hot peppers, okra, tomatoes, rice, firewood, tobacco, cotton and cow peas to name a few. Not to mention that when it stops raining, the weddings and funerals start in the North.
So how do the women who run the water businesses find the time or the incentives to sell water during the peak of the harvest season? Well, it’s complicated. For starters, people have run out of rainwater so the only option they have for clean water is treated water from the polytank. This means that the demand for clean water is there. And the incentive that drives many of the women to work at the centers is the same incentive that gets people to work at desk jobs back in the US, they want to make money to pay the bills. This monetary incentive has to be there because if women work at the centers strictly for the greater good of their communities, they will have no money to pay for aquatabs, broken parts or for the time they could have spent on their farms.
But what happens when people in the communities are collecting water from different sources? This is where the plot thickens. In Kpanayili, the people in the community are collecting water for cooking, cleaning and washing at nearby wells and streams. They will get water from these sources until they dry and then they will go back to getting water at the dugout. As noted before, the women in the communities already have long days so if they can lessen their load by shortening the walk to get water, then they will do it in a heartbeat. The problem is that the water treatment center is next to the dugout. This is not the case in all CWS communities at this time but there are several that deal with challenges such as this during the transition from the rainy season to the dry season.
So how can we convince people to make the extra walk just for clean water, while we wait for these other sources to dry? It’s not easy. While it may seem like clean water should be high on the priority list, the reality is that it’s not for everyone. Farmers are focusing on their harvest and prioritizing food over clean water because this is their sustenance. Farming is how people survive. If that means drinking contaminated water for 2 weeks so that they do not have to walk as far and as a result get more time on their farms, then they’ll take the risk.
In the long run, what will 2 weeks of diarrhea do if it means having more money for the family this year? If you asked this question to a public health official, they would answer A LOT. But the women working in these communities are not public health officials; they are simply trying to make their work as easy as possible. Because after all, to be a woman is not easy.