Innovative solar business models
with Brave Mhonie
(SolarAid and SunnyMoney)

In this episode, we speak with Brave Mhonie from SolarAid and SunnyMoney

Listen to us on Apple Podcast, Red Circle, Spotify, Stitcher or your favourite podcast streaming platform!

Show notes and related resources

SunnyMoney: company website

SolarAid article: What happens when a village gets light?

Podcast Summary

We discuss:

  • The need for solar and off-grid energy solutions in Malawi

  • The potential for business model innovation to reach off-grid, remote communities

  • How their partnership with the Ministry of Education helps them to expand their reach

  • How the solar industry in Malawi has changed in the past 10 years

Show notes:

  • (1:00) Introduction to Sunny Money; SolarAid's founding by Jeremy Leggett, focusing on trade rather than aid

  • (3:20) Sunny Money's approach to innovative business model and the evolution of go-to-market strategy; initial focus on pico solar and solar lights; how the industry has changed in the past 10 years enabling businesses to focus on distribution

  • (5:00) Their focus on seeding solar businesses in local areas, receiving investment from local businessmen to expand their reach across Malawi, providing working capital for SunnyMoney who continues to manage the business; a financing innovation for local businesses

  • (6:00) SolarAid's partial subsidy to provide a cushion for the costs to reach a remote customer; how to get a substantial presence in a rural community; operational expenses which are partially covered by SolarAid

  • (12:00) Customer engagement model; an initial deposit paid by customer; sales representatives act as area agents to manage cash collections, after-sales services, payment management

  • (14:00) Mobile money's role; supported business, however some areas where mobile money is not available. The continued need to manage debt; the difficulty of managing payments during seasons when customers focus on buying farming materials

  • (16:00) Overview of the solar industry in Malawi over the past 10 years: growing customer awareness and interest in larger systems; government's role in supporting the sector, removing VAT and various taxes

  • (17:00) The government's potential to help with consumer education, making consumers aware of other affordable energy solutions; the potential for government infrastructure development

  • (19:00) Diesel genset, batteries as alternative energy sources; dry cell powered torches

  • (21:00) Brave's route into Sunny Money, initially wanting to work as a medical doctor, and seeing the potential to improve health with solar power

  • (24:00) Challenges of managing people, importing goods, financing assets; it's a new sector so there are many challenges

  • (25:00) SolarAid support in funding; Developing financing business co-operatives with Global Distributor's Collective

  • (27:00) Surprised by the government's interest in combating energy poverty

  • (29:00) How they decide to expand: looking at income levels, population density, support and existing infrastructure and organisations that can help them

  • (30:00) Their partnership with the Ministry of Education; using teachers' development centers as distribution points

  • (34:00) Working with SunnyMoney in other countries

  • (36:00) Advice: Be patient and keep innovating!

  • (37:00) Inspiring figures: Jeremy Leggett and the person who introduced him to solar in the first place

  • (38:00) Recommended books: Blue Ocean Strategy

  • (39:00) Predictions: the off-grid solar sector will grow very quickly, with growing demand for investments