Word-of-Mouth from our Juapreneur of the Month

MartinSoka_TrainingNewJuapreneurs

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.

Olivia_Martin_Ladies_Training

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.

Is that Juabar kiosk selling solar lights? Yes, check it out!

Small group breakouts to practice sales pitching among peers.

Small group breakouts to practice sales pitching among peers.

We have newly trained salespeople! As part of our franchisee services, we are beginning the distribution of solar lighting products from our Juabar kiosks. This past weekend we had our first franchisee training in solar lights. The day started off ominously with dark skies, the smell of rain and my Android phone gone missing from my persons somewhere from my house to the bus station where I was meeting my team. My team was very empathetic to my cause and indignant on my behalf. That day and the days leading up to the training made me very appreciative of my team on the ground. In fact, everyday I’m inspired by my team. They are very much motivated by bringing value to our Juabar franchisees and committed to providing the best Juabar experience for all stakeholders.

Juabar staff, Khalid and Godfrey, adjusting the agenda to accommodate for a longer discussion about franchisee operations.

Juabar staff, Khalid and Godfrey, adjusting the agenda to accommodate for a longer discussion about franchisee operations.

We utilized ARTI-Energy staff, our implementation partner and solar lights distributor, to help us design the sales training day. We held a “train the trainer” seminar for Juabar staff, hiring an amazing sales trainer from Nairobi. Further training help came from start-up social enterprise colleagues who have conducted similar trainings for their respective sales staff. I appreciate a shared commitment to building upon what other start-ups have done before us, thanks to Sanergy and Livelyhoods.

Sales training day was very dynamic. We made it as interactive as possible and highly visual. Having all our franchisees from the northern Pwani region together for the first time, we needed to optimize this opportunity to get further feedback about their Juabar experience. We should have scheduled more time in the agenda for this segment because it turned into an impromptu focus group. How could I resist this feedback? We adjusted the day to allow for this candid discussion and drew insights from it about what information we should provide earlier in the franchisee relationship, specifically regarding more knowledge about solar energy.

Our youngest participant, she has a killer sales strategy: cuteness.
Our youngest participant, she has a killer sales strategy: cuteness.

In the end, after a lecture about the product, small group role playing sessions, large group pitch feedback and a final sales pitch competition, we were able to send our solar lights sales troops off into the world with the ability and confidence to sell the benefits of our lighting products. One participant said that he was timid at the idea of selling lights when he arrived but now was excited and confident that he could be a good salesman. There was plenty of excitement when folks left and they expressed appreciation that Juabar was continuing to build their business.

Local caterer provides! A full day of training requires a hardy lunch.

Local caterer provides! A full day of training requires a hardy lunch.

Highlights from the Juabar Team

Godfrey Mallya, far right trains Mr. Hatibu and his family to operate their Juabar kiosk.

Godfrey Mallya, far right trains Mr. Hatibu and his family to operate their Juabar kiosk.

 

I started working with Juabar as the Operations Coordinator in September 2012 when it was first introduced in Tanzania. It was a new idea to me and very exciting to every employee in ARTI Energy Ltd, one of Juabar’s partners and the other company I work for. We had two Juabar units in the field for a pilot studies for three months in Bagamoyo at Pwani region and the other at Mbweni Mpiji nearby Dar es Salaam City. Both units performed well in technical side and in business perspective. Still the units are operating in the same areas as the operators decided to buy them. This year we participated in Saba Saba International trade fair in Dar es salaam in partnership with ARTI Energy Ltd. We got a chance to show people the Juabar kiosk and how it works. Everyone was very interested in the idea.

On the 17th of August, 2013 my friend John Jackson and I decided to take two of them for business at Morogoro Bus stand. Inside the bus stand there is no power at all so passengers need to charge their phones before and after their safari (journey). The units can charge your phone, radio, laptop, torch, phone batteries, etc by solar. Now time has come that you can get the moving solar power from a JUABAR Kiosk.

-Godfrey Mallya, Juabar Operations Coordinator

Community energy services, an opportunity for farmers

Farmers of Sauti Ya Wakulima prepare to operate their new charging kiosk.

Farmers of Sauti Ya Wakulima prepare to operate their new charging kiosk.

In the fall of 2012 we had the opportunity to connect with Eugenio Tisselli, the creator of OjoVoz, http://sautiyawakulima.net/ojovoz/, a mobile app and website designed to enable farmers to collect photographic records and audio recordings of their agricultural practices. From documenting disease outbreaks to recording the most valuable characteristics of locally developed cassava varieties, the platform lets farmers collect and share valuable information with each other, other farmers and local, national and international researchers and institutions.

Juabar is working with the farmers to provide them with electricity access to keep the phones that they use for research charged and ready when needed. The Juabar charging kiosk not only provides valuable energy services, but it is also a business opportunity for the farmers. The kiosk is on long term lease to the group for a minimal monthly fee and the additional money that they earn from offering mobile charging services to their community will be directed back toward cooperative research and farming needs for the group. This is just the beginning of what we look forward to becoming an exciting opportunity for farmers groups across Tanzania and the communities in which they live who lack access to basic electricity services.

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.

from human scale to larger than life

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.

Innovation_Summit

When connectivity fights corruption

Today we were back at KINU, a fledgling ICT hub in Dar es Salaam and fast becoming our favorite hangout. Yesterday and today we attended the Tanzanian edition of the 5th Annual South African Innovation Summit, a conference talking about design, business and the role of ICT and systems thinking innovation. The topics covered were not necessarily new, but the African context was enlightening for us. Today especially validated our need to optimize solar energy for creating new pathways for consistent connectivity.

Our workshop team after a rapid prototyping exercise. “Superfoot – your secret mobility weapon” or an enhanced artificial leg.

As is common for live streamed events, the connection turned spotty mid-morning and we switched  to a more “workshop” format earlier than scheduled. I preferred the workshops because it allowed us to take the themes from the streamed South African plenary talks and discuss them for Tanzania: a much different technological, infrastructural and financial national landscape.

The workshop facilitator asked “what defines Tanzania?”
People … Weather … Lack of Technology … National Parks … Lack of Infrastructure … Youth … Corruption, etc.

“What defines Tanzania?”

We then separated the answers as “positives” and “negatives” and were asked to focus on the negatives and figure out how technology could play a role in creating solutions to overcome these negatives.

My group focused on corruption and we came up with a solution that focused on exposing public departments or companies who have employees that request bribes. Using a crowd sourced web site the content would be aggregated and made available to the public. Public shunning is taken very seriously. There were plenty more details discussed within our group and with the larger group that led to a rich and lively conversation, but too many to list for now.

Our brainstorm visualization on how ICT can help curb corruption in Tanzania

What was most relevant to me was how mobile phones fit into all these solutions when considering how a solution could be made easily accessible for a broad spectrum of people in Tanzania. A corruption web site is only good for the limited number who have access to the internet, others would need to use SMS to contribute and participate. Our takeaway is that the mobile phone is more and more becoming a tool to facilitate new solutions to old systemic problems. Based on the conversation we had today with Tanzanian ICT developers, they are well aware that mobile comes first in developing new solutions to serve the needs of the local environment.

At juabar, we think access to connectivity is only going to get that much more pertinent as these types of solutions are built. We’ll help to keep the renewable power on to allow for greater participation. Over and out from the 5th Annual South African #InnovationSummit.

juabar 101, everyone's paying attention as the 1st juabar solar training takes place.

A little resourcefulness

Yesterday was a big day for juabar. Juabar1 is piloting with one of ARTI’s long-standing collaborators, named Mikila, who lives in an off-grid area not far from Dar.

We first visited Mikila last week to introduce juabar, gauge his interest in operating a phone charging micro-business and explain the data-collecting and co-creating implements as a pilot “jua-preneur.” This meeting was positive, he asked good questions, such as “can I pull juabar from a motorcycle” and, “what language will the marketing flyers be written in?” Also encouraging was his excitement at this opportunity and the manner in which he was already riffing on its possibilities. Our ARTI colleagues who helped translate relayed to us that they could sense his excitement. He informed us that his oldest of four children, all daughters, was beginning her studies to become an electrician. As a family business, adding juabar will create a direct experience with solar that Mikila’s daughter can add to her professional credentials. After all of our juabar business dealings were done, Mikila went to his garden and offered us cassava. Bounty of the land!

Godfrey and Ronnie peel cassava for the ride home, a gift from juabar’s new family in Chambisi

The exact date that juabar would be dropped off at it’s pilot location has been a moving target for weeks. Two days ago we were informed that the next afternoon would be the day for the drop off. That was yesterday, a Sunday. All of a sudden a flurry of activity was happening at juabar HQ. The day was coming when juabar1 would go off into the world on its own. There was still marketing materials to print, training manuals to complete and data tracking devices to put into place, not to mention translation. All the little loose ends that don’t seem like much until the deadline is suddenly the following day.

On the day of the drop off, we couldn’t find a printing service operating on Sunday, the ARTI van sprung a major radiator leak on our way out of town and our translator was off for the weekend. These missteps didn’t slow down Team JUABAR. We found a printer at a high-end hotel business center, relied on a good friend in the States to translate documents in the middle of the night, added color accents to our B&W flyers on the drive to Mikila’s, and on the side of the road north of Dar our overheating van received treatment on a holey pipe using a $1 rubber strip and a ton of Tanzanian ingenuity.

juabar makes it happen! flyers: designed, printed, cut and delivered at a moments notice, even on Sunday :)

All was ready as needed when we arrived at Mikila’s house yesterday afternoon.

We conducted a quick technical and micro-business training, explained our data tracking needs and juabar1 found its home as a family business in Chambisi.

juabar 101, everyone’s paying attention as the 1st juabar solar training takes place.

It was a proud moment to be driving away, leaving juabar1 behind with its new crew.

the lovely young ladies of juabar’s new family!
Up to it again, ideating at an urban innovation co-creation space in Dar es Salaam, Tz. Pondering how best to use ICT for climate change info sharing and awareness in East Africa.

First visit to KINU – the ICT “Hub” of Dar

Tuesday evening antics.

Up to it again, ideating at an urban innovation co-creation space in Dar es Salaam, Tz. Pondering how best to use ICT for climate change info sharing and awareness in East Africa.

Tools of the Trade

Wishing for one extra week

Enlightenment found at our favorite local hardware store in Mbezi Beach, Dar es Salaam.

Now that we know … where to find the good electrical supplies … that most of our hardware needs are solved by our favorite little hardware store around the corner … that we should always take a Swahili-speaking fabricator with us, we are beginning to gain real momentum. Not speaking Swahili sucks even though we get along fine with our multilingual colleagues and the patience of many Tanzanians. To our credit, our Swahili gets us on AND off the local “daladala” buses, lunch service from the spot across from work and the ability to buy from and bargain with anyone. Money talks, know your numbers first.

“Charge your phone with solar, here!”

Having a prototype also helps with momentum. Now that Jua1 is functionally complete, our vision is better communicated. People can see with their own eyes what it is and what it does. It fills us with joy to see the employees of ARTI take customers around to our workspace at the back of the office and tell them about juabar. And, it’s not for our benefit. They explain and converse in Swahili and then walk away. We have to explicitly follow up to ask what the person said and thought of the concept. It’s something that people immediately understand as a solution for off-grid communities.

Kenedy breaking it down on the juabar v.2 design

Our team at ARTI feels hopeful about juabar. We would love to get a version out to a far off rural area where people pay 2 to 3 times what people pay in the city to charge their phone, but we will market test nearer to Dar es Salaam first. Although ARTI is willing to test juabar for us, we really want to see these prototypes through some rounds of user feedback. And with less than 5 days until we have to leave, and a mountain of stress to complete Jua2 in time before leaving, we have decided to bite the bullet and extend our stay.

Colors of the Trade

There is still much to learn and test from Jua1 and Jua2. To be honest, we want to be leading this process and we can’t let the prototypes go on without us just yet. Sometimes, when the power is back on, the water is flowing from the taps and the wifi internet works again, you realize how much can be done when everything clicks. This ride is far from over, this segment just needs to be longer, three weeks longer to be exact.

Tools of the Trade

juabar's coming together one weld at a time.

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


Day at the Ofisi (Office)

We have been blessed at ARTI to have two business-minded guys available to muse with us on business strategy for juabar. Yesterday, the technicians were offsite and we had some miscommunications on when they’d be back to go over the juabar designs. Instead we switched gears to better understanding the mobile phone charging market and unexpectedly had an extremely fun day of it.

Pin adapter commonly used to charge phone batteries, found at a grid-tied mobile charging stations in Bunju.

We took a bijaj taxi (see pic below) to the outskirts of Dar to a town called Bunju. There we noticed four grid-tied charging stations within an area of less than 100 meters, stiff competition at the edge of the grid. We interviewed these shop owners and learned that many folks from the interior communities travel or send their phones (sometimes just their batteries) to these mobile phone shops, which makes for why each had consistent numbers of daily customers.

Our bijaj getting loaded with square piping.

Godfrey, who is our Tanzanian colleague and fellow rabble-rouser on the business side, is awesome! He’s soft-spoken, calm and neatly dressed, and he delivered a happy surprise when he put us on motorcycles to visit a solar charging business in a very rural area outside of Bunju, called Kinondo. I forgot that renting motorcycle taxi drivers is normal here, and it’s the easiest way to access more distant areas with rougher roads. It’s outside the American mental model to trust a stranger enough to saddle up behind them on their ride, but when in Tanzania … we do as it is done! It was a great day at work on the back of a motorcycle and riding through a beautiful stretch of dirt road on a gorgeous sunny day.

Ride to find the SOLAR mobile phone charging station in rural Kidondo.

We learned from the rural solar charging station owner that hers was a new business that her family recently started, only one month old. The added value of solar in their home is watching TV and having lights, the business brings in steady additional income.

Today, we are having additional miscommunication on where is our builder. We miss Godfrey on his day off as we cannot just go off and buy our build of materials. Well, we could but everyone at the office is telling us to wait for James, our fabricator/builder, to get back and confirm the design with him first.

Juabar prototype birthday looking to be delayed until tomorrow ….


Co-Designing juabar: Day 1

JUABAR’S BIG START!

Today marked the first design session with our partners at Appropriate Rural Technology Institute (ARTI). A day that started with a bit of anxiety on our part about leading a design process for a team that didn’t speak the same language or operate within our creative freedom felt a little unnerving.

Sachi, Godfrey and John check out juabar components at the ARTI offices.

Would they think we were nuts? Confusing? Could we bring our design chops to the Swahili table?

Last night we planned for today’s outcomes and nailed down how best to talk through our design principles and co-designing methods. We spent yesterday evening illustrating our concept and drawing out the community ecosystem where juabar would be introduced. Then we pinpointed what considerations we should detail based on our research: security, weight, durability, charge capacity, and mobility.

Unleashing our juabar components upon ARTI was like Christmas for the solar technicians. Unpackaging the Solar Nexus (the brain of juabar) and charge controllers fed the curiosity of these guys who work with electrical systems daily. The sales and admin staff were also getting in on the excitement and contributing to the process in their own ways.

The technicians of ARTI ideate on juabar concept! Excitement was felt by all!

The day was spectacular! At first it was a little slow going as we had to make sure our business partner, Godfrey, understood the juabar concept well enough to translate to the others. We unfurled markers, paper, drawings, tape and an openness to their input within the context of this project. While slow at first, once they fully understood the design concept for juabar, they were off and running, designing juabars, sailing forward with new ideas and considerations. At one point one of the business development guys wanted to talk about challenges for the entrepreneurs who would be running these juabars and off he went to create an initial SWOT analysis for us. Needless to say, the folks at ARTI are excited for the possibilities of juabar. We’re excited to share more as we enter Day 3 on the ground.

juabar co-design wall at ARTI!

Where on the hierarchy of needs is connectivity?

Image

By Olivia Nava

I was at the Rio+20 conference in Rio de Janeiro last week immersing myself in what the world’s nations were collectively trying to do to address climate change and further create mechanism for sustainable development (SD). I found the official sessions to be a bit of a remnant of an archaic way of conducting negotiations. The leaders and influencers of the world poetically talk about what they are doing successfully and how great it is, often behind closed doors. I was hard-pressed to find someone to say what is NOT working, or what they learned from their failures in trying to implement SD programs and how they are committed to forging forward regardless, because it is what needs to happen. We are reaching a point of no return on saving our planet from permanent damage (for human survivability), yet the outcome was to agree to talk more … in the near future.

However, the best thing about this conference was meeting the “regular” people it attracts, many people who want to DO something, in big and small ways. Do something to help this planet and the diversity of people that exist on it. This was encouraging. It was cool to turn to the person sitting next to you and be consistently awed by what they are doing.

I attended the Rio+Social event on June 19, the sexiest of side events if anything is “sexy” about a UN conference about SD. It was a bit of corporations trying to make SD cool while at the same time being corporations. Big time money brought the celebrity types out and I did find the panels to be interesting despite their inability to find more women to populate these opportunities. Specifically, I found the session about mobile technology in the Global South to be pertinent to what we’re trying to do at juabar.

This is where Mashable CEO, Pete Cashmore, posed the question, “Where on the hierarchy of needs is connectivity?”

Right now this is an important question because the answer is not universally consistent. How connectivity integrates into people’s lives and provides them with security versus status remains an ongoing question in the context of promoting mobile products in Africa.

I thought about the hierarchy of needs for connectivity and remembered how 10 years ago many people I knew justified their first cell phone purchase by citing security. As if it were some luxury that they should feel regretful for having. It was for that moment when by themselves, late at night, on an abandoned road … their car breaks and they’re miles from anywhere.

The context for off-grid communities in the Global South is one where mobile technology IS connectivity and will have a role in most faucets of people’s lives. I heard many examples at Rio+20 of people using mobile technology for government accountability, healthcare, communications, banking, economic development and a number of other purposes.

In the way that folks in the bay area think about laptops, tablets or even more crucial – their smartphones, how could we live with out these? Mobile platforms for connectivity will fall low on the hierarchy of needs for most people around the globe in the near future, more pressingly in places like East Africa.

At juabar, this is what interests us in providing energy for mobile phones in East Africa, because with 90% of the country with access to connectivity and only 10% of the population with access to grid energy — mobile energy is the beginning of what could be a very big need over the next 5 years.

juabar is coming to life this summer!

We envision a place for communities to interact with, learn about and create their own solar energy solutions.

We are excited to bring this work to life. Keep up with us here for updates on our progress and our thinking as we work to bridge design, business and the diverse needs of international communities.