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Key for success: reliable customer service

We can not continue this way! Why a customer-oriented approach is needed.

The so-called "poorest of the poor" spend yearly USD 60 billion only to cover for their fuel needs.

  • The demand and need for off-grid electricity are huge.
  • The technology is proven and mature.
  • The off-grid market is not dependent on state support.

But how to enter this market?
Over the past 20 years, various strategies have been developed to address this market. So far they have proven to be in essence unsuitable:

Failed approach 1: Project oriented
Innumerable, self-contained rural electrification projects were realized. In general, they were successful for a short time, but could not stimulate sustainable development. The defective solar systems can be visited today as ruins of this inadequate approach in Africa and Asia.


  • Financially and technically not sustainable
  • No plan for time after project finished - "one-night-stand-activity"
  • Focused on nice pictures - to get more money for next projects
  • No initiation of sustainable development
  • Main winner: project donors (good conscience)

Failed approach 2: Tender oriented
Especially the big governmental organizations (World Bank, GTZ, USAID, etc.) often call for tenders for rural electrification projects, in which private business enterprises may participate. Again, no sustainable development is set in motion, but subsidy thinking is promoted: because the companies involved usually return to the capital after the installation - and wait for the next call.


  • Preferring cheapest, not best solution
  • No plan for time after tender is finished  - "one-night-stand-activity"
  • Focused on nice results for public relations
  • No initiation of sustainable development
  • Main winner: tender developer (World Bank, GIZ, USAID...)

Failed approach 3: Product oriented
For several years, so-called "social enterprises"are trying to address the market. Their problem: they are focused on the manufacture of products, here again on small solar flashlights. They namely enable a simple production with little working capital, but the sale of flashlights has little to do with rural development. In addition, the millions of tiny flashlights produce considerable waste and disposal problems.


  • Product sale not solutions sale
  • Mostly cheap solar lanterns to reduce working capital
  • Fast sale from shelf, no interest in long-term customer relationship
  • Focus on fast results for "social investors" and public relations
  • New problems: Waste and recycling of batteries
  • Main winner: "social investors" (financial and image profit)

New approach: Customer oriented
All three described approaches must fail because they ignore the most important principle of all financial sustainable development: the focus on customer needs. As long as the interest of donors, investors, or the ideas of engineers are at the forefront, it's not about the needs of the BoP people. For this, a focus on the real needs of people is required. And for that, surprisingly, the product itself is of secondary importance. Much more decisive are:

  1. Permanent presence of qualified technicians in rural areas
  2. Reliable and fast maintenance / after-sales-service
  3. Trustful and longterm customer relationship

The customer oriented approach requires a holistic approach and the development of a rural service network. Fast results for "social investors" or donors are therefore not to be expected - but a permanent and stable infrastructure that enables rural development.
The customer oriented approach has been successfully implemented in the past. The two most prominent examples:

- Grameen Shakti in Bangladesh
- SunTransfer / Stiftung Solarenergie in Ethiopia

It is time to copy this successful model and to bow out of all the models that are not oriented to-wards the needs of BoP people.