The Norwegian Volunteer Service, “Fredskorpset” (FK), gives young Malawians and Norwegians volunteers the opportunity to share skills and experience whilst contributing to their host country through partnership programmes. The partnership between the Nkhotakota Youth Organisation (NYO) and Flora Upper Secondary School in Norway has led to the start-up of Kumudzi Kuwale. In 2014, the piloting of the project received a start-up grant from the Embassy. Four of the Norwegian FK staff involved in the partnership visited the Embassy to elaborate on their work, the business model of Kumudzi Kuwale and their experience of living in Malawi.
Meaning “the light of the village”, Kumudzi Kuwale is a social-for-profit enterprise providing energy solutions to locals and businesses in the Nkhotakota region. The idea was initially about supporting rural electrification in a sensible way, explains Jon Strand, outgoing General Manager. In utilising the sun, Kumudzi Kuwale installs solar-based charging stations in rural villages outside of the electricity grid and employs an operational agent from the community to administrate the station. Having installed a charging station, they rent out lamps to the villagers for a monthly cost of about MWK 900 (approx. $1.2). By doing so, they are able to supply sustainable and affordable energy to those most economically marginalised throughout the district.
Anne Lene Østli, Entrepreneurship Advisor in NYO, outlines together with her predecessor, Tor-Øyvind Rand, the role of NYO in the community. The organisation promotes youth participation in social and economic development and provides vocational and entrepreneurial training. A goal is to turn training into initiatives that foster ownership and development, such as Kumudzi Kuwale. With 45 employees (many of them trained at NYO), the entrepreneurial solar business supplies electrical light to the rural population whilst promoting participation in social and economic development among Malawian youths.
Soon-to-be General Manager in Kumudzi Kuwale, Arne Marius Skillingstad, will shortly travel to Pretoria in South Africa to receive the Award. He emphasises that the key to Kumudzi Kuwale’s success is in the balance between the applied business model and the social mission of the firm. Kumudzi Kuwale are able to solve many social challenges and improve people’s living conditions in a sustainable and profitable manner. Sufficient light is essential to productive learning environments in classrooms, to functioning health facilities, or when cooking in the evenings. Grønn-Hagen Bjørke Malawi Foundation and the NYO are the owners of the firm and the surplus goes back into the education system.
With just a few more days left in Malawi, Anne Lene and Jon have mixed feelings about going home. After living in a place for a long time, one will naturally grow attached. They have had the opportunity to make a real positive impact on people’s life whilst acquiring excellent work experiences. The town of Nkhotakota, located on the shores of Lake Malawi, is a peaceful place. If you do not seek some leisure activities, the place can almost be too peaceful, they note. To compensate, they started cultivating new activities, such as woodcarving, ceramic and kickboxing. The Nkhotakota Music Festival is also an annual highlight. The festival is partly organised by FK volunteers and had between 2000 and 3000 visitors last year. Nevertheless, there is a time for everything. Now it is time for Jon and Anne Lene to return to Norway. However, Kumudzi Kuwale and NYO will most certainly be in safe hands; Arne Marius and Tor Øyvind have already pulled their sleeves up and are ready to get started.
There are smiles and a sense of anticipation around the table. The combination of sunshine, technical skills and entrepreneurial flair has materialised into a solar business providing 33,000 rural customers with electrical light in Nkhotakota. Bright ideas can make bright future.
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*The conversation took place before Kumudzi Kuwale were officially awarded the price. Jon and Anne Lene have now travelled back to Norway.