More than 80 per cent of the population of the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu live in rural areas scattered across multiple islands. This makes communications, transport and service delivery extremely challenging for governments already facing issues with governance and corruption.
Many of these people are not connected to the electricity grid, which adds to the challenges faced by these communities. It is sometimes referred to as ‘energy poverty’.
Opportunities for unskilled labourers to find ongoing and meaningful work, particularly in the outlying islands, are extremely limited, especially for women. While women contribute to growing and selling food, more needs to be done to help them to take control of their own income generation and how they use it.
Our united response
Anglican Overseas Aid has partnered with Australian company Barefoot Power to support the Anglican Church of Melanesia (ACOM) in its work with the Mothers Union and other church groups to set up small businesses.
This work involves training men and women in business skills to enable them to establish solar lighting and communication technology businesses in a bag.
The project uses a self-sustaining finance model that has been successfully implemented in other parts of the world and is based on selling solar lamps to households in surrounding villages.
The solar desk lamps are simple devices that, once charged, can provide up to 30 hours of light, reducing a household’s reliance on kerosene entirely.
Each of the solar “agents” is initially given lamps on credit to sell in designated areas at prices that are affordable in the local economy. When they have sold the lamps, they then pay back the value of the original loan, and use any profits to buy more lamps to sell.
The training includes maintenance skills, technical information on the product, sales and marketing techniques, financial management, stock control, fundraising and entrepreneurship.
As the entrepreneurship training is generic, these skills have been transferred to other products or business opportunities.
The Anglican Church of Melanesia manages the project implementation. It oversees a microcapital fund that purchases the solar lamps and ensures stock is available for distribution to micro-entrepreneurs.
ACOM and participants will also develop a strategy for increasing the micro-capital pool and eventually use it to purchase other marketable goods.
The level of interest and uptake of the solar lights has been huge. Its potential is widely accepted by the target communities who understand the importance of providing meaningful work opportunities for young people, particularly in the outer islands.
Decreasing reliance on kerosene that is both expensive and dangerous is an obvious benefit.
The aim is to scale up the project to include all six Anglican Church of Melanesia training institutions to reach communities across the whole of Solomon Islands. It is estimated that as many as 5000 remote households could access electricity through solar power over the next three years.
The project is also popular because of the environmental benefits it offers. Solar energy is recognised as a climate-friendly technology because it does not produce greenhouse gas emissions. Across the Pacific, communities are concerned about the impacts of changing weather conditions given their high level of vulnerability to climate shocks such as cyclones, torrential downpours and tidal changes resulting in flooding. Using solar energy supports both long-term sustainability and improves quality of life for Solomon Islanders.
Solar Lights Change Lives
Our program has provided life-changing light that isolated families would otherwise not be able to afford. Since establishing our ‘Business in a Bag’ income generation component $10,000 in profit has been generated for Solomon Island communities.