In the outer reaches of the Malawian capital, Lilongwe, our partner Foundation for Education and Social Development (FESODEV) is delivering the Mtukula project. This pilot scheme provides vocational and business skills top up training for tradesmen and women already working in carpentry, tailoring, welding, and for the first time, solar repair and installation.
Moses Kamphinda and Elizabeth Jumbe are members of Chisomo Solar Contractors, one of 10 solar enterprises which our project is supporting. Their business operates from a workshop at Moses’s own home, in the bustling trade centre of Msundwe, about 30km from Lilongwe.
The future is bright for Chisomo Solar as more and more people are turning to renewable energy. The Malawian Government has lowered taxes on solar equipment and subsidized prices to encourage adoption of solar power. It is already a popular investment for many Malawian families in rural areas beyond the reach of the national grid. And many households connected to the mains supply still suffer regular power outages when the system struggles to cope. Consequently, demand for competent and reliable solar contractors is high.
Moses and his team are keen to build their client base and reputation, and will travel up to 35-40km to reach their customers for privately commissioned work. It can be difficult to reach their clients and the group currently have limited tools which they share. But with FESODEV’s training and mentoring, Chisomo Solar will build their technical skills and confidence in negotiating fair payment for their work. And as their business grows, they will be able to access more tools and invest in transport.
Moses said, “The project is already helping a lot; I can now see the future for the business. By the end of this year, we hope to save enough to buy a motorbike so we can reach more customers. Our next plan is to save enough capital to buy panels and installation systems, so we can sell to our customers as a package.”
For Elizabeth, there is an additional advantage in joining the project. Choices for women in vocational trades remain more limited, but the solar industry is gender neutral at present. In fact, Chisomo Solar has more women members, and she is confident that a women can succeed in the business. She told us “Our customers never ask for a ‘man’ or ‘woman’ to do the work.” As vice president of the project student committee, Elizabeth is also building valuable skills in leadership and communication as she represents the trainees in project meeting.
Back here in the UK, our Warehouse Manager has been working closely with FESODEV and other partners in Malawi, to design a new tool kit to support the trainees when they graduate. The first of these kits recently arrived in Lilongwe and will soon be distributed to Moses, Elizabeth, and their colleagues.