Contributed by Alessandra Moscadelli

Improved stoves and solar lanterns are affordable for many Kenyans. They save people money as well as having health benefits. John Maina is determined to make these products available to a wide number of people and he’s using commercial marketing methods to achieve this goal.

John is the director of an NGO called SCODE based in Nakuru, Kenya, which is evolving into a social business. SCODE has been in the energy sector for many years. John and his team have installed around 500 biogas units across Kenya and he also produces and sells improved stoves. Now he’s extending into selling solar-powered lanterns thanks to a loan from EcoBank which GVEP-I helped to facilitate.

The loan from EcoBank enabled John to buy a small stock of lanterns to test in the market. These were an instant success. He sold 50 lanterns in 2 weeks, and is already ordering more. He stocks two sizes of lanterns: D-Light’s powerpack which sells at 6000 Kshs and the smaller Firefly from Barefoot Power, selling for 1600-1700 Kshs. The smaller lantern, which comes with a phone charger, is particularly popular.

SCODE has a network of 15 local distributors who have been selling its stoves for some time. Now the same people are starting to stock the lanterns. The EcoBank loan allows John to offer his distributors 30 days credit on 50% of the cost of purchasing stock. The other 50% has to be paid up front. The distributors also extend credit to some of their customers, giving them a little longer to find the money to complete a purchase. Because they know their customers the distributors are able to minimise any risk of non-payment.

Customers also deal directly with SCODE. John told me an order had come in from the Ministry of Health for 15 lanterns for rural health posts around Nakuru. The lanterns will make it much easier for the nurses to work at night. He’s confident he will get more such orders.

As well as facilitating the loan for SCODE through a partial risk guarantee, GVEP-I has been providing business advice and is helping SCODE develop a brand and professional marketing materials. The staff and distributors will all be trained in marketing in a bid to help them increase sales.

The SCODE stoves are of high quality but are not branded, so they appear indistinguishable from poorer-quality stoves. More distinctive colouring and labels will in future help customers identify a SCODE stove.

‘We need to strengthen our sales and marketing,’ John says. ‘The training will be very useful. GVEP has helped us a lot.’

GVEP International has been able to provide loan guarantee funds thanks to its partnership with the Garfield Weston Foundation.