Posts written by sachiarieldesign

Word-of-Mouth from our Juapreneur of the Month


Martin Soka, Juapreneur since January 2013, offers training in charging business operations.

It has been a busy 12 months for all of us here at Juabar. Since our last appearance in the blogosphere we have expanded our network of entrepreneurs to include 30 new charging businesses who regularly serve over 4000 unique customers. We have also grown our team to include Issa Kiruwa, Juabar agent extraordinaire in Morogoro, TZ, Geofrey Shayo our office administrator in Dar es Salaam and two new interns, Sam Lai and Arbogast Munishi.

One of the most exciting aspects of our growth over the past year has been the work of our network of entrepreneurs, or “Juapreneurs” who directly provide charging services in their communities. Lately one member of the Juapreneur team has brought to light a very special aspect of our work.

This November we did a special social media campaign to highlight our Juapreneur of the month, Martin Soka. Martin became part of Juabar through Issa Kiruwa, Juabar Morogoro agent, who works directly with our Juapreneurs. Martin was excited about the opportunity to provide mobile charging services to his community which is located about 30 minutes by car down a dirt road outside of the town of Ifakara, TZ. There is no electricity in the area and the demand for mobile phone charging is high.

On the evening when we went to install Martin’s solar kiosk and get him started with his charging business there was a small crowd of people mingling around in the center of town. About an hour after we had finished and were back in Ifakara town, we got a call from Martin to tell us that he already had 20 customers charging their phones and others waiting. Business was working out very well!!

A successful business for a Juapreneur earns between USD60 and USD160/month, after they pay their lease fee to operate the kiosk. This money is earned by providing vital charging services to over 200 people and their families. But success for Martin’s business and Juabar goes beyond the money that he earns and the charging services that he has been able to provide to his community.


Martin Soka, Olivia Nava and new Juapreneurs after finishing their training (August, 2014).

Martin has become a leader amongst the network of Juapreneurs. During our regular trainings, which cover content from customer service to bookkeeping to basic Juabar technical operations, Martin has taken a formal role in sharing his knowledge with new Juapreneurs. Peer learning has been one of the most exciting and effective features of our trainings of late. Beyond sharing his knowledge, Martin has also brought another seven new Juapreneurs into our network in the past month alone.

Through team members like Martin Soka we are able to grow via word-of-mouth engagement and validate that our services are providing real value to the team of people who make up Juabar. Developing Juabar as not just a product, but as a service, which is driven by a network of engaged, creative Juapreneurs has been the intention of Juabar from inception and we are very excited to see this important aspect of Juabar becoming a reality.

From the Front Lines of East Africa’s Tech Revolution

After spending the last few months collecting revenue and user experience data, redesigning the Juabar kiosks based on operator and community feedback and raising funds for implementation, the Juabar team is finally back in full design/build mode on the ground in Tanzania.

I feel a buzz of excitement as we begin to build our next round of prototypes and heightened engagement from local entrepreneurs who are interested in becoming the next Juabar operator. This energy provides a constant source of inspiration and motivation as we focus on the wealth of work we have ahead of us.

Godfrey and I visit ARTI's new retail solar storefront in the middle of Dar Es Salaam. Godfrey and I visit ARTI’s new retail solar storefront in the middle of Dar Es Salaam.

We work out of both the ARTI Energy offices in Mbezi beach area as well as KINU, one of Dar’s four tech innovation hubs which serves as a shared office for a variety of local and international programmers, designers and media creators. We are one of only a few teams working on hardware design at KINU which makes it particularly exciting and relevant to be able to share ideas and mutual inspiration with local software developers because in addition to being a small business for local entrepreneurs, Juabar is designed as a source of energy to facilitate these types of connectivity.

The time has never seemed more relevant for designing solutions which bring energy infrastructure for connectivity to local communities in East Africa. For example, the recent Kenyan elections were unable to use digital balloting because the polling stations lost power, forcing them to revert back to paper ballots. The power is out often enough in the center of Dar es Salaam (the largest city in Tanzania) that it is difficult to guarantee internet access yet more and more people are recognizing and talking about ways to educate remote communities via the internet.

Power lines reaching across Mwenge market, one of the busiest hubs in Dar and recipient of at least weekly blackouts.
Power lines reaching across Mwenge market, one of the busiest hubs in Dar and recipient of at least weekly blackouts.

Digital education platforms may represent a tremendous potential for increasing rural access to education but they none-the-less require a reliable source of electricity to power the mobile phones, tablets and wifi access which connects people to the wealth of information sharing and collaboration that is possible today. East Africa will continue to leap frog existing technologies and take full advantage of the latest available tools– the region is innovating, pushing awareness, and reaching for widespread connectivity. We’re incredibly excited at the opportunity to play a role in powering this movement towards increased access to information, conversation and economic development.

Mobile phone of numbers :: Memory of sounds

Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

During a lively discussion at a recent Technology Salon about broadband access for women across the African continent the subject of literacy came up. If people are not literate how can they use phones designed based on the use of the written alphabet? Can we redesign the phone to be used in a way that better works for people who do not communicate via reading and writing? It was a dynamic discussion and exciting to hear the keen interest in overcoming global communication challenges. In the midst of the discussion the following story opened an entirely new perspective on this challenge.

One of the participants told the story of being asked for her phone number by a member of the Masai in rural Kenya. He handed her his phone and asked her to slowly type in her phone number. As she entered her number he memorized the tones. He would later call her regularly in Nairobi from his village based on his recognition of the sound made by each key he pressed.

I cannot recognize tonal patterns on a key pad to access phone numbers and others cannot recognize written words. Exploring the diversity of user experiences based on cultural backgrounds and access to information opens doors to a wealth of rich communication and new lenses through which to view our world. What we choose to see is up to each of us.

It’s not a question of if, but when

Juabar, what is it anyway? Solar phone charging, a micro business? That all sounds exciting, but really, what is it?

It’s been a question on the tip of all of our tongues as we work to codesign and develop “juabar” here in Dar Es Salaam, the largest city in Tanzania and a hub of creativity in East Africa. Although we were confident coming to Tanzania that initial juabar excitement was in the air, we were still working with numerous different possible designs prior to arrival. Once on the ground we were able to spend time co-designing with fabricators and future juabar users and finalizing the design for our first prototype. juabar prototype #1 is almost complete and out into the world.

juabar’s on wheels!

It has been an inspiring journey designing, building and collaborating with our team here and the response so far has been amazing.

Here is a little taste of what I mean:

We have been working with a man named Benard, the solar supplier for ARTI, our partner organization on the ground. Early on we purchased a solar panel from him and I was in the process of purchasing other solar supplies from him over the phone when he asked a common question in the solar industry.

“Where is your site located? I’ll need to bring a technician out to check it out and then I can tell you a price for what you need.”

I explained that it was a mobile solar installation and that it was currently located at the ARTI headquarters.  He seemed a bit confused, but said he’d see me there in a few hours. He arrived and when I told him more about what we were working on he was intrigued, but still a bit perplexed until I proceeded to show him the set-up. At first he looked astonished and then smiled, laughed and said, “This is creative! I had no idea what you were up to, but now I see it! Wow, it’s great, it is not a question of if this will take off, it is a question of when.” We exchanged more laughs at his initial confusion about “what is juabar?”,  he excitedly complimented our work once again and promised to update me on the availability of the components I needed from him.

And with another vote of confidence the juabar team went back to work.

coming together one weld at a time

My favorite juabar moment to date came during a conversation with Ronney, the man who works as the driver for ARTI and speaks fluent English, Swahili, Ugandan and a few other languages.

We were busily stenciling juabar to get it one step closer to completion when Ronney came over to say hello and check on our progress. Olivia looks up at him and asks, “What do you think of juabar?” He is silent for a minute and then responds with, “What do I think of juabar? I wish I could buy one and start my own business. I’d be my own boss and I would set it up at the market in Mwenge.”

I could not have anticipated a more validating response.

There is much work still to be done, but juabar is already coming into its own. We should have juabar1 finished in a few days and out into the world and we’re already designing the next iteration.

Olivia gets down to details with juabar

That said, I have learned not to anticipate that things will happen too quickly. In the context of electricity outages and sourcing components in an unknown environment sometimes things take a little longer than expected. In the meantime I’m basking in the glow of abundant juabar energy and taking each day in stride.
In anticipation of juabar’s entrance into the world, I’ve snuck in some sneak peeks of “juabar” to date. Enjoy and stay tuned for full juabar #1 photos coming very soon.

juabar says: “charge your cell phone with solar here” in kiswahili