On a hot, sunny July day, representatives from SNV, MTN, and INETS paid a visit to two villages in rural Benin to assess progress on the testing of the Power out of Poverty Solar cart.

The initiative seeks to empower a network of solar micro-entrepreneurs with the skills and tools to run a profitable solar powered micro-business that sells mobile phone charging services, small solar power systems and MTN products. At this stage of the project, the goal is to gather the impressions of end users, the satisfaction with the technical aspects and the level of demand on the field, as well as any issues raised by the village micro-entrepreneurs (VMEs) to adapt the product before launching it officially by the end of the year.

"I used to charge phone batteries using a generator but only at fixed hours, which was a constraint for my clients. With the solar cart, I can charge batteries at any time of the day or night. Imagine that!"
- Jacques Tandjiekpon, village micro-entrepreneur for the 'Power out of Poverty Partnership', Benin

These VMEs are local business owners selected by MTN to sell basic energy-related services such as phone charging and solar lamps in their areas of intervention. SNV has identified a long time local partner with extensive experience in entrepreneurial training and capacity building, the Songhai Centre, to deliver tailored training and guidance in management and maintenance of the solar cart. In addition, the largest microfinance organism in Benin, the FECECAM, has agreed to support the initiative under the form of small grants to allow them to increase sales.

As for Jacques and Kevin, they are highly enthusiastic about this initiative which has already boosted their income. Kevin, who has earned an additional 20,400 CFA from the charging of 200 phones in the past week, claims: “A solar cart is something we have never seen in this area and clients like it because their phones stay charged for longer. Please help us keep this business going”. When asked about their concerns, they express the need be able to face any technical issues that may arise, and in this regard hope for the partners’ full support in training them adequately.