Founded in January 2013, African Renewable Energy Distributor (ARED) seeks to provide stable and reliable energy solutions to rural and urban areas in Africa, employing innovative technologies on a micro and macro level.
Henri Nyakarundi is founder and managing director of ARED, a Rwandan-based and award-winning renewable energy company specializing in the development of mobile solar kiosks. Under Henri’s leadership, ARED has won numerous awards including the 100 innovations for sustainable development, the Siemens Empowerment Award, the Energy Globe Award, and SEIF Award. He completed his Bacehlor of Science Degree in Computer Sciences from Georgia State University.
Boris from Cleanleap has interviewed Henri to explore more about ARED solutions and opportunities to different sectors in Rwanda and the whole African continent.
Boris: What is a Mobile Solar Kiosk (MSK)?
Henri: Well, MSK is a solar-powered unit providing off-the-grid electricity and broadband connectivity solutions in rural and urban areas, it is used to charge mobile phones, sell airtime, utility, and run mobile money transactions. MSK is one of the products that we will launch with clean technologies, of course when you start a business you always have to start with one product then build your way up, so MSK is a product that will solve a lot of issues in energy using low cost technology.
Boris: What was your motivation to start ARED?
Henri: My motivation was very simple, I was looking for something that could have a positive impact in Africa, and I realized that energy crisis was a big problem, but especially among the poor people that don’t have a lot of resources, and that’s where the initial idea came from. You know the biggest issue in Africa is not only just energy, but also a huge unemployment rate among the youth. I believe that innovation and entrepreneurship are the keys to solve some of those problems. So by creating the MSK it will not only have a social impact, but it will also become a business and bring solutions to poor people.
Boris: How does MSK business model works?
Henri: We do not sell our MSK to its users, they are provided free of charge, we do select and train agents to run a business to help those people that are looking for small business opportunities. For example, if you want to start a similar business independently in Rwanda such as becoming a telecom agent, it requires you to register, deposit some amount of money etc, but when you partner with us through MSK it becomes very easy as we do take care of everything for you including technical maintenance. The agent only needs to take care of customers and we do share revenues on the sales (airtime, mobile money and utility). Our main goal is to facilitate entrepreneurship and make it easy. The kiosk itself values $2,000 USD it’s a big risk that we take, that’s why we do pay more attention while selecting people to work with to get the right agents.
Boris: Don’t you think that the MSK manufacturing cost is high and you might end by getting a loss?
Henri: Not really, we make money on a lot of different levels, we sell advertisements on our kiosks. In fact, we don’t make money on the kiosk, but on the services we provide on the kiosks. Our MSK can be used up to 10 years, the first three years are recover investment and the rest of years are just for profit, so it’s a matter of patience.
Boris: How will solar energy help the MSK users in rural areas?
Henri: Well, to answer your question let me give you an example, when telecom companies come to a country they have to build the infrastructures such as establishing antennas and set power generators in remote areas before they get customers and make money through services provided. We are doing the same thing, but at the micro level using low-cost technologies to help people with low income to run small business, and the solar energy that our MSK uses facilitate the services delivery at any given time due to its special battery that allows it to function overnight.
Boris: What are the main challenges ARED is facing to date?
Henri: You know in Africa, Rwanda in particular, innovation is something new and because we competing with the international companies from the Western World that have a lot of support financially from grants to do research and development, a lot of them for example they work with universities that help them develop products design, which is still a problem here in Africa. Another challenge is just that African countries have different laws which makes expansion very complicated and time-consuming.
Boris: What is the way forward for ARED?
Henri: ARED wants to build a distribution channel of 400 to 500 MSKs within two years,we have set up 24 kiosks up to date. We are working on our next generation kiosk that will have; a hardware monitoring system, a WIFI access, and GPS sensor that will allow ARED to track them and easy expansion. With this MSK version we will be able to let people living in rural areas access internet. Thus, we are looking to partner with potential investors in ARED, actually there is a German company that wants to invest in our business and many more, so we are working on the selecting the right partners to enable us easy market penetration. I have no doubt that renewable energy business will be successful.
Boris: Thank you for your time Henri, it was a pleasure to meet an inspiring social entrepreneur like you.
Henri: You are most welcome!