Rwandan entrepreneur uses solar phone-charging carts to create jobs in Africa

Imagine owning a smartphone with no place to charge it. Rwanda native Henri Nyakarundi brought a micro-franchising model based on solar-powered phone-charging carts to his country. The carts encourage entrepreneurship and help people get their phones charged, as reported on CNN.

Nyakarundi’s family first fled Rwanda and later Burundi, finally ending up in the United States. He studied at Georgia State University majoring in computer science. An entrepreneur himself from his teens, Nyakarundi founded African Renewable Energy Distributor (ARED). Nyakarundi has designed several versions of solar-powered kiosks that can be towed by bicycles or pushed by hand and can charge up to 80 phones simultaneously.

According to the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority, while 70 percent of Rwandans own mobile phones, only 18 percent have access to electricity to charge them. Nyakarundi designed his mobile solar carts to address the need for easier access to phone charging and provide jobs at the same time.

Nyakarundi returned to Rwanda in 2012 to implement his plan. There are currently 25 solar kiosks in operation. In the ARED micro-franchise model, would-be entrepreneurs pay a $100 down payment and pay off $200 over time. Prospective franchisees have to be at least 25 years old and provide two letters of recommendation from community leaders.

Women and men with disabilities do not have to pay the franchise startup fees — they get the carts for free. “They are the most vulnerable group in Africa, especially in business,” said Nyakarundi. “Women don’t have access to funding the way men do, and people with disabilities have even less opportunity.”

Nyakarundi told CNN its current franchisees earn between $38 and $107 a month from their carts. In Rwanda, that income is sufficient to pay rent and feed a family. According to CNN, in addition to an approximately 1 percent commission on sales, ARED generates most of its revenue from advertising on the sides of the kiosks.

Ready now to expand, ARED’s new carts are designed to operate as mobile hot spots to provide internet access as well as phone charging. Nyakarundi also hopes to allow free internet access via the carts, again planning to generate revenue from companies that advertise, collect data, or submit surveys.

Nyakarundi and ARED developed with the support of “numerous energy innovation awards and grants from the likes of Microsoft,” according to CNN.

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