Ever been stuck in a situation where your phone battery runs flat, you’re urgently in need of an information on the same phone and you’re in an off-grid area? Well, if you were in Tanzania, and within any of the areas where Juabar operates, you’ll have no cause to panic.
Juabar, meaning solar bar in Swahili, are solar-powered kiosks that charge mobile phones in off-grid areas of Tanzania. Founded in 2012 by Olivia Nava and Sachi DeCou, Juabar’s mission is to develop profitable small business opportunities in Tanzania while meeting community energy and connectivity needs.
Using a high quality 50W solar-PV system, the mobile, light-blue, small wagon kiosk can charge either 10 or 20 phones or a variation of other small electronic devices at once, and costs about US$600 to install.
According to Co-found DeCou, “It’s a very easy business and doesn’t require renting a building. We have a couple of locations where the business is so [strong] that we have put in larger installations.”
As a self-energized kiosk, Juabar is a product designed to exist in public space as a pop-up solar-electrified shop for entrepreneurs. Juabar doubles as an energy business and retail location, providing the service of phone charging as well as complementary product sales.
A franchise network of micro-business owners who offer phone charging services have been set up. The franchises, called “Juapreneurs” receive financing, technical support and sales training. According to DeCou, they decided to use a franchising model to overcome logistical challenges of operating in remote areas in a country spanning over 945,000km².
In her words, “We also wanted them to operate as entrepreneurs, not as workers in the system. Our entrepreneurs know what customers in their areas want and need. So when we leverage that from a business perspective it becomes interesting and beneficial for them, their communities and to us.”
Juapreneurs are selected based on their location, then vetted and offered training. They charge between 300 and 500 Tanzanian shillings ($0.16 to $0.26) to charge one phone, and are at liberty to set prices based on market dynamics. In return, they pay a monthly fee of 80,000 Tanzanian shillings ($43.50) to operate the kiosk as franchises.
“We don’t work with anyone who is in a location where they can’t make double what they pay us because we don’t want them to be in a position where they are giving us more than they are making.” adds DeCou.
The longest running Juabar charging kiosks have been in operation for one year, and as smartphone usage increases, founders of Juabar look to offering additional services such as Wi-Fi access, information and media centres, as well as solar-powered grain mills at the community level.