Empower Malawi

Location: Malawi

Empower Malawi is a social enterprise operating in Northern Malawi with the aim of providing access to energy to hard to reach, rural communities. While solar businesses focusing on providing access to energy have thrived across much of Eastern Africa, the uptake in Malawi has been significantly slower to date. This is largely driven by the low income nature of the country, with Malawi having the third lowest GDP per capita globally (World Bank 2019).

NextEnergy Foundation first partnered with Empower Malawi in 2017 to set up five independent energy Hubs which provided energy access to rural communities. The aim was to bridge the finance gap for low-income consumers by offering pay-per-use access to energy goods and services, such as phone charging, rental of house lights and charging of batteries, thus allowing consumers to access goods and services without incurring high start-up costs.

The Hubs were also delivered in conjunction with local schools across Northern Malawi. Each Hub offered the participating schools free lighting, allowing classes to be run at night and improving the educational services provided by the schools.

Location: Malawi

NextEnergy Foundation first partnered with Empower Malawi in 2017 to set up five independent energy Hubs which provided energy access to rural communities.

NextEnergy Foundation and Empower Malawi renewed their partnership in 2019 when a donation was made to install solar lighting systems in 25 schools across the Nkhata Bay District. In each school, one lighting system of 4 lights was provided; each system has the capacity to generate an additional 4-5 hours of lighting per night, or over 400 extra study hours per year. When night classes were offered because of the increased access to electricity in the schools, the pass rate of Standard 8 (13 year old) students rose from 66% 85%. In total, this donation increased access to education to over 1,700 children.

Following the success of the first donation in 2019, NextEnergy Foundation sponsored the installation solar systems on an additional 30 schools by the Empower Malawi Team in Nkhata Bay District. According to data provided by the District Education Officer, a total of 14,500 children who attend these 30 schools will have increased access to education through the provision of lighting.

NextEnergy Foundation received funding from our first external donor, the Church of Scotland, in early 2020. By matching these funds received, NextEnergy Foundation’s support will enable Empower Malawi to near the installation of 50% of the schools in the Nkhata Bay District with solar lighting systems.

Location: Malawi

NextEnergy Foundation is committed to supporting Empower Malawi to reaching its goal of installing solar lighting systems on 100% of the primary schools in the Nkhata Bay District. The Foundation had matched the funds raised by SoPowerful, an organisation which is also working to bring solar power where it matters most, to enable Empower Malawi to install solar lighting systems on a further 80 schools in the Nkhata Bay District. This will bring the number of primary schools with access to clean energy to 140 out of 193.

January 2021 Update: Since December 2020, solar lighting systems have been installed on 51 new schools. In order to complete these installations, the Empower Malawi Team has covered over 800km to do so. You might think that doesn’t sound much, but these are 800 hard kilometres of dirt roads, wooden bridges, fording rivers and climbing mountains…all in 30 degree heat! For many communities this is the first time they have seen electricity in their village so the arrival of these small scale solar systems is a big event.

Due to the large number of children in each classroom, these 51 new installations will expose 22,326 students to solar energy for the first time. Based on previous data, this will provide increase study time to 4,500 children in these schools each year, allowing them access to critical teaching time prior to their examinations, and helping them graduate to secondary school.

Location: Malawi

Since 2019, NextEnergy Foundation’s support for Empower Malawi has contributed to the installation of solar lighting systems on 100% of the primary schools in the Nkhata Bay District, Malawi.

In June 2021, the NextEnergy Foundation’s Board of Trustees agreed to support Empower Malawi’s 5-year plan. As part of this, the Foundation is financing the installation of solar systems on the 52 secondary schools in the District, benefiting the studies of a further 22,500 children from access to solar energy. In addition, NEF is supporting the installation of solar systems on the 22 health centres located across the District, impacting over 2,200 people.

Thank you to our very own Daniel Kingscote and Paul Norrish for overseeing this ambitious work!

November 2021 Update: Solar installations have now been completed on 201 primary schools and 22 secondary schools – there are 27 final schools on which to install solar systems before reaching 100% of the schools in the District. The impact of this work has been enormous: in the primary schools alone, initial data collected shows that each system is enabling 34 children every year to extend their study hours by 19 per week. Across all primary schools, this is a total of 6,852 children every year, providing more than 5 million extra hours of study time on aggregate each year. The impact on secondary schools will be even larger, as two systems have been installed per school.

In May 2021, NextEnergy Foundation also committed to support Empower Malawi to bringing solar lighting to all the health centres in the Nkhata Bay District.

One Headmaster wrote to Empower Malawi following the installation of the solar system to say: “This nod can’t be taken for granted, but wholeheartedly pleased to expose the gravity of happiness the school management besides the community at large has for the present. The community will be helped a lot in terms of studies for their children, [and] facilitation of thorough preparations by teachers which will help improve quality of education to learners. You have shown us love, beauty, possibility and new beginnings with a clear sky for Chisu.

September 2022: All primary and secondary schools in the Nkhata Bay District, 234 schools in total, now have access to solar energy. The impacts of NEF’s donations to support this work to date are below:

  • 100% schools in Nkhata Bay District with access and exposure to solar energy, the only District in Malawi where all schools have electricity access
  • 193 primary schools 2017: 15% with access to electricity and only 3% of classrooms connected to the grid VS 2022: 100% schools with electricity access and 15% classrooms
  • 41 secondary schools2017: 85% with access to electricity and only 67% of classrooms connected to the grid VS 2022: 100% schools with electricity access and all classrooms with greater stability of electricity of supply due to lack of reliance on the grid
  • 10,341 (c.10.5% of total) children with access to clean energy
  • 14.7 million additional hours of study time each year; 73.4 million additional hours of study time over system lifespan
  • Primary schools2017: 86.3% pass mark VS 2022: 94.4% pass mark, including 45 schools with 100% pass marks in 2022
  • Secondary schools2017: 60.9% pass mark VS 2022: 69.9% pass mark, including 8 schools with > 80% pass marks in 2022
  • Schools in the District have improved nationally from 23rd to 2nd

Head teachers from all schools verbally confirmed that they believed that the solar system was a significant reason for the improvement in grades.

Location: Malawi

NextEnergy Foundation has been supporting Empower Malawi since 2017. Together, we have installed solar systems on 100% of the primary and secondary schools in the Nkhata Bay District, Malawi. As a result, schools in the District have improved nationally from 23rd to 2nd, and the pass rate is 93.9% pass rate, versus the national average of 83.2%. Please refer to the 2021-22 project tab for more details about our impact to date.

But demand for clean energy access continues to rise. As such, the Foundation is funding the installation of an additional six systems on 78 schools this year; the hope is to be able to expand the systems on all 245 schools in the District over the next five years. Empower Malawi is coordinating with the District Education Officer to identify which schools to prioritise, and whether the systems should be installed on classrooms or on teachers’ housing (usually based on site next to the school), or a mixture of both. Installations on teachers’ housing is important to attract and retain teachers, especially in rural Malawi.

In order for Empower Malawi to better coordinate the installations and monitor of the impact of energy access on school attendance and educational performance, NextEnergy Foundation is also covering the salaries of a local team. Their roles will also include conducting research and development on other solar energy-enabled innovations which Empower Malawi could explore in future, such as electric bicycles and solar irrigation or milling technologies.

June 2023 – Employment Update: Empower Malawi has put together a local team which it believes has the right skill set, experience and drive to continue to further drive the organisation’s impact:

  • Captain Billy has been the long-time installer of the Empower Malawi systems, and will continue within this role moving forwards. He will coordinate with teachers and maintain the equipment log data base.
  • Gilbert Mafunga will be supervised by Captain to coordinate the installations and will also liaise with Government officials (e.g., the District Education Officer). He is a trustworthy pair of hands in Nkhata Bay and has a longstanding relationship with Dan Kingscote and Paul Norrish, two colleagues from WiseEnergy who run Empower Malawi.
  • Mathews Gondwe is a recent graduate in Economics and the son of a lady called Catherine who has worked with Paul in Malawi for 27 years. Mathews will be responsible for research and analytics: monitoring and evaluating impact data metrics and school performance; undertaking further research about the communities Empower Malawi works with to identify further opportunities; and attending conferences to the same end. Mathews will begin this role part-time as he is currently completing a placement as a Finance and Administrative Assistant with the German Agency for International Co-operation.
  • Jonathon’s role will be confirmed shortly, but he is expected to work on a part-time basis to manage Empower Malawi’s accounts.

Empower Malawi is still recruiting for a social media co-ordinator to work on promoting its work locally and internationally so that it can gain wider traction and funding. The role will be confirmed in the next months.

August 2023 Update: The solar installations have completed on all of the health centres in the Nkhata Bay District. Impacts of the donation are below:

  • 100% health centres in Nkhata Bay District with access and exposure to solar energy: 22 health centres; 44 systems in total, two per health centre
  • Solar energy as the primary lighting source: 23% of the centres are using the solar systems as their primary source of lighting; 76% use the system as a backup light source in the event of grid failure; systems used for an average of 7.12 hours per night, all year round
  • Each centre is serving an average of 16,895 people in its community: together, c.323,000 across the District have access to improved healthcare services because of solar energy access

December 2023 Update: starting from September 2023, Empower Malawi begun rolling out a new operating model aimed at expanding access to more lighting in more schools under a subscription model. Schools will pay a small monthly fee to cover the costs of replacing batteries, bulbs and other components, whilst simultaneously setting up its Light Library (rental of lights) and Phone Charging (charging facilities for students) businesses to create revenue aimed to either pay for or subsidize the schools subscription fees.

Thanks to the setting up of 39 schools in zones Bandawe, Ching’oma and Mpamba under this new operating model, Empower Malawi saw an increase in the utilization of the systems, with a total of almost 20,000 lights rented in 3 months as well as just over 2,000 phones charged since the first systems were set up in November 2023.

Empower Malawi saw the performance of the schools increasing on a month by month basis and are working closely with the schools to seek to maximise the performance of their revenue generating businesses and meet the full value of their subscription fees. In December 2023 Empower Malawi held a workshop during which schools that are thriving shared information to help improve performance of less successful schools.

In addition to facilitate the sustainability of the School Lighting Systems, the provision of lighting through the light libraries and phone charging is a fundamental benefit to the community, driving access to clean, renewable energy in rural communities.

Empower Malawi is estimating that each light rented generates three hours of additional study time per rental for at least one pupil. for a total estimated amount of 59,000 additional hours of study time across the 39 schools from September through to December.

May 2024 – Employment Update: the local team has expanded to include 7 members. Gilbert now plays a central role in coordinating the delivery of services and managing the expansion of the programme. He is also tasked with addressing any challenges that may emerge during implementation.

  • Gilbert MafungaGeneral Manager co-ordinates the team on a day-to-day basis and is responsible for cash management and organisation of the installation of new systems as well as liaising with the local government and education department
  • Mathews Gondwe – M&E Coordinator responsible for the monitoring and evaluation of the programme, maintaining a central point of contact to discuss performance with schools. During last year, Mathews has been responsible for data collection from schools
  • Leticia – Light Library Programme Coordinator Leticia is responsible for the day to day running of the Light Library programme, coordinating with the SunnyMoney team internally and ensuring that schools are making payments as per the terms of their agreements
  • Dixon Phiri – Data Collection Officer Dixon joined Empower Malawi in March this year, taking the role as his first job having finished a degree in Community Development. Dixon will collect data across the new 40 schools which have had light libraries installed, supporting work in the office and working with schools to maximize their revenue
  • Mphaso Guasi – Data Collection Officer Mphaso will take on the data collection role for the 40 schools previously managed by Mathews
  • Aubrey Topola – Social Media Manager Aubrey has recently joined Empower Malawi to manage the organizations growing social media and marketing strategy. Aubrey is currently working 3 days a week while he is studying at university
  • Jonathan Kadam’manja – Accountant Jonathan works on a monthly basis with Empower Malawi to undertake all of the in-house accounting. Jonathan works closely with Gilbert, who logs all expenses and reconciles as required, whilst also logging the incoming revenue from schools.