Modern energy services are crucial to human well-being as well as to countries' economic development. Communities and businesses without access to on-grid electricity either go without crucial lighting, heating, cooking, and appliances or often rely on substitutions such as kerosene lamps or wood fuel. The fumes and smoke from these substitutions can often be harmful, especially to women and children who spend the most amount of time in the household.

In Niger, where SNV implemented the Youth, Advocacy, Women, Work, and Alliance (YAWWA) project (funded by USAID) from October 2014 to October 2017, only about 15% of the population has access to electricity. This leaves more than 16 million people without power. On top of this, there is a stark contrast between urban centres, that can have more than 60% access to electricity, and rural areas, that can have as low as 4%.

But with YAWWA’s support, a group of entrepreneurial young people is working to close this gap by bringing sustainable sources of energy to Niger’s communities.

The Groupe d’ingénierie, de Management, de Formation et de Recherche [Engineering, Management, Training and Research Group] (GIMAFOR), a social enterprise led by its Founder and Director Abdou Yecheou, is installing solar energy stations in Niger’s off-grid areas. The solar stations typically include a solar mill, a solar water pump, and a charging station for mobile phones. GIMAFOR also trains and employs community members to run these stations, creating employment opportunities in the communities it serves.

To support and scale-up its operations, GIMAFOR received a grant and guidance from YAWWA.

YAWWA identified young entrepreneurs, social enterprises, and youth organisations that had viable businesses plans, and were having a positive effect on communities, and supported them to expand their operations. The project connected these changemakers with the knowledge, tools, and resources they needed to transform their localised activities into socially beneficial enterprises that can now be expanded and replicated. The project also created a culture of entrepreneurship by connecting young innovators to share ideas.

Abdou Yecheou and the GIMAFOR team launched their operations as part of the start-up incubator CIPMEN in Niger’s Capital, Niamey before starting out on their own. Not long after, GIMAFOR began installing multi-service solar stations in Niger’s underserved communities. GIMAFOR is performing a critical social service by bringing access to electricity services to communities that would otherwise go without power, but it is also a self-sustaining business. The company charges small fees for use of the solar services which it uses to cover operating costs and build additional centres.

Abdou Yecheou, Founder and Director of GIMAFOR

GIMAFOR received a grant from YAWWA to construct and install a solar centre, which includes a solar-powered water pump, in Niamey’s Seno neighbourhood. Seno is mostly comprised of refugees and displaced families, some of who were relocated after a flood destroyed their previous community. Before YAWWA supported GIMAFOR to expand into Seno, the people in this community had no access to electricity or electricity-based services. Families had to buy water from neighbouring communities, typically paying high fees, upwards of $1 US for a standard container of water. But GIMAFOR was able to charge around 10 cents per container of water from their solar-power pump. This also compelled the neighbouring water operators to reduce their prices to stay competitive with GIMAFOR, providing crucial savings for Seno’s households.

Currently, the Seno solar station is selling about 200 five-gallon containers of water per day, and GIMAFOR intends to reinvest the revenue gained from these sales back into their business and into Seno. The company plans to build a second solar station in Seno to service part of the community that is separated by a large ravine. So far, GIMAFOR has also been able to employ four permanent workers to operate the solar station.

With the introduction of the solar station in Seno, GIMAFOR is bringing much needed services that can expand economic opportunity to a critically underserved neighbourhood. A company made up of youth, themselves in their 20’s and 30’s, GIMAFOR is creating employment opportunities for their fellow young people in a country where unemployment is an acute development issue. With YAWWA’s support GIMAFOR has established itself as a profitable and sustainable social enterprise that will continue achieve both revenues and social impact throughout Niger.

Seno residents filling up water containers at the GIMAFOR solar water pump

The GIMAFOR team using a solar-powered mill to process rice flour