Jeanne Marie Uhiriwe is very happy with her solar kiosk. She operates one of the 25 solar-powered kiosks in Rwanda which charge electronic devices with energy from the sun. The kiosk’s bright colour and unique appearance is a curious sight for many passers-by in Kigali’s business district.
Ms. Uhiriwe proudly wheels her kiosk to its usual downtown spot. At first glance, the bright red plastic tower on bicycle wheels looks a bit strange. The Rwandan entrepreneurs A-R-E-D developed the compact kiosk and set it on bicycle wheels to make it mobile. It contains a hefty battery that is powered by a pair of fold-out 40-watt solar panels.
The kiosk is designed to charge up to 30 electronic devices simultaneously. Clients pay 100 Rwandan francs (14 U.S. cents) to plug in and charge their phones and other devices for up to two hours.
This is Ms. Uhiriwe’s first business. Until a few months ago she felt she was destined to work on her family’s dairy farm. Now, she feels blessed to be independent and to be her own boss.
A–R-E-D says that most women who approach the company cannot afford to pay a deposit on the equipment. Getting a loan can be difficult in Rwanda. More than a quarter of the population has no access to formal financial institutions. Ms. Uhiriwe was fortunate to get funding from a family association in her rural community of Kayonza, in Rwanda’s eastern province.
The company is reaching out to women’s savings groups to try and address this issue, and are giving women up to 18 months to repay loans. They hope to encourage more women to own their own kiosk.
Ms. Uhiriwe also met the other vital criteria for a solar kiosk franchisee – she can read and write, and successfully completed the fourth grade at school. She feels fortunate that she completed her primary education. Across the world, according to a recent report, many girls do not.
She appears to have a natural head for business. Downtown Kigali may not seem like the most obvious place for a solar-powered charging kiosk but, amidst the bustle, her business is booming. The majority of her clients are in a hurry and pay the full 100 francs to charge their device for a mere five minutes before continuing on their way. Periodic power cuts provide plenty of customers, and her kiosk plays host to a non-stop chorus of ringtones.
Ms. Uhiriwe says her kiosk would attract customers even in the quiet rural town she comes from. But each charging slot would likely be occupied for the full two hours, and she would make less money.
Ms. Uhiriwe nearly always works 12 hour days, resting only on Sundays. She is happy that she can make money running her own business. Her success allows her to provide financial support to her immediate family and contribute to her siblings’ school fees. But she is most proud of how people see her back home – as a professional with a successful business.
Ms. Uhiriwe sees her solar business as a stepping stone to bigger things. The 23-year-old is confident that she will pay back her loan within the 18 months. She is planning to enrol in a management course.
To read the article on which this story was based, Jeanne Marie’s story: Solar kiosk franchisee in Rwanda, go to: https://www.one.org/us/2015/04/13/jeanne-maries-story-solar-kiosk-franchisee-in-rwanda/ 
To read the report mentioned in the story, Poverty is sexist, go to: https://s3.amazonaws.com/one.org/pdfs/poverty_is_sexist_report.pdf 
Photo: Jeanne Marie Uhiriwe. Credit: one.org