By Julia Hawkins, Ashden PR and Digital Media Manager
During our Awards week at the end of May we were delighted to welcome back Mohammed Parpia, whose company Zara Solar won an Ashden Award in 2007 for rolling out solar energy to the rural poor in Tanzania. In the midst of the media frenzy I managed to squeeze in a coffee with him, when I found out how his business has progressed over the past 5 years...
What was it like watching other people get their awards?
Ah, lots of memories came flooding back for me! Five years ago I was sitting there all stiff and nervous – obviously I had no idea whether I was going to win or not! I remembered that my wife had originally persuaded me to fill in the application form at the last minute – I wasn't going to do it! I'm glad she did. I was really impressed with all the international winners this year – in fact I had already met the people from SKDRDP previously at a REDCO Alliance conference in Dharmasthala, India. This had been organised by SELCO, which won an Ashden Gold Award in 2005 and 2007.
What impact did winning the award have on you?
Well for a start, I had a lot of sleepless nights! It was like I'd become an instant celebrity overnight - with all the media coverage around the awards I became known both nationally and internationally! I was invited to lots of conferences all over the world, where I was able to show the film that Ashden had commissioned about my work.
Did getting an Award actually benefit your business?
Sometimes you need a catalyst in life. My business was already growing, but I think it has grown much more as a result of receiving the Award.
How has it helped?
One of the big benefits for me was the confidence it gave people in my products. For example, it was much easier to persuade suppliers to work with me, who were much more ready to give me discounts and so on. There are so many low-quality solar products on the market in Africa and winning an Ashden Award – as well as the subsequent Awards I have received over the years – helped reinforce the credibility of my business.
As well as this I was given practical support to help me prepare a five-year strategic plan, which was really useful in helping me scale up my business. This support was financed by GVEP, who sent a consultant from Nairobi in Kenya to work with me.
Is this just a business to you, or are you socially motivated?
Well, I am a business man at heart and to be honest, when I started out selling my products 8 years ago, I saw an opportunity to make money. The emphasis I placed on producing quality products was simply about market competitiveness, not about helping poor people. But when I won the Award I realized I'm doing something good! I am much more aware of how dangerous and dirty kerosene is on peoples' health now – and about climate change.
How serious an issue is lack of clean energy in Tanzania?
Imagine being a woman and going into labour and having to carry 5 litres of kerosene with you to the hospital – and imagine that the first air your newborn child breathes is air that's been polluted by it? Worst still, imagine knowing that you will have to give birth at home if you can't afford to buy the kerosene? So many women in Tanzania have dangerous home births, risking their own lives, and their babies' lives, because of this.
Tanzania has one of the lowest electrification rates in the world – only 13% of the population and only 2% of the rural population has mains electricity. But it doesn't make financial sense for the government to extend the grid, so solar energy is really the only way to go. Things are changing, but slowly and the government should invest in it much more than it's doing now. We appreciate that the Government has removed both the import duty and VAT on all solar products.
Now they need to put in place mechanism that will allow people in rural areas to access funds for buying solar systems.
Call for Entries, Ashden Awards 2013
We're now inviting applications for our 2013 Awards - you can read about the criteria for applying and the application process for all the awards here.