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Hurdles of a last mile distribution

Being part of Solar Sister has given me a chance to travel my country to try and impact change in the communities I work with.

However, like any young organisation, a social enterprise where our impact is to be felt at the grassroot, we find it difficult or face some challenges in the field.

Some of our challenges are;
1. Poor road network - coming from a third world Country, we have roads that are not favorable at all, we move to different parts of the country trying to recruit Solar Sisters and bringing change to these communities, but travelling to the deeper parts of the villages where our change would be most felt, can be challenging. Plus we have to think about how we will have to constantly send inventory and support to these places - to keep the network growing.

2. A culture of 'NGO' mentality - As a young Social enterprise we find out that we struggle a lot with trying to empower and educate people about what a Social enterprise is, most of the culture has been killed by NGO's who have come in the past to 'hand out' free things to people, which in a long run are not sustainable at all, a friend of mine told me this saying "If someone gives you a horse as a gift, you do not count it's teeth" but if you bought one, you would care to see how many teeth it has! In simple terms meaning that something that you get for free, you do not care a lot about, but if you pay for something or have some bit of involvement in it, then you feel it's value. We are trying so hard to break this cycle and people are starting to get it.

3. Competition from low cost Chinese products - Our other biggest challenge is the existence of cheap and short lasting Chinese products on the market, trying to bring in our products that we know are durable and we offer warranty for, plus training and maintenance has been hard. But we are gaining a lot of acceptance, but it is hard work.

Those are some of the challenges we face in trying to impact our community, and the way we try to go over them is , we try to show the people the value of working together to achieve social impact. We train women to learn that they can be greater people by taking part and offering their time to sell solar products.

In terms of competition we demonstrate how the products we promote are one of the best products in the market, backed up my evidence and reports from people who have used them. We also try as much as possible to have a great working relationship with all of our product dealers and they are helpful in helping us give our customers value for their money.

I believe such a community can help me go past some of the challenges we face by offering their experiences, I know there maybe links or people who do similar grassroot kind of projects and may have faced similar barriers like mine and can advise accordingly in any aspect.

I would be specifically interested in knowing how someone has used mobile phones to reach last mile networks, in the most cost effective way, maybe using free solutions or solutions that are cost effective and good for community development projects. Mobile phones is a big big part of our network, we use the mobile phones to communicate to ladies, and they communicating back to us for Inventory, payments, orders etc.


Monica Clarke's picture

A couple of ideas

Dear Enamara

I am also trying to get to the bottom of using mobile phones and improving on those networks. I shall be writing about this in my journal soon.

Meantime, I have had the following responses which you might like to look at?

1) (from Colleen Robertson -
2) (from Scott our VOC classroom administrator, who says Frontline SMS 'is an application that allows people and organizations to send and receive mass text mesages. It is being used in many interesting ways, from radio broadcasting to family planning..'.

Let me know how it goes. I'm going to start an Action around this issue and will alert you when I have started that discussion.

Good luck with your hard work!
With love from Monica in France

Monica Clarke, Writer & Storyteller, bringing human rights alive.
I wish you 'Nangamso', that is: May you continue to do the good work which you do so well.
(A blessing from my ancestors, the Khoikhoi, the first people of South Africa).

Ariee's picture

Thankyou for your wonderful article

Your article was very insightful and the part about the way you have mentioned about the culture of "NGO's Mentality" made me think it is somewhat different from my concept of an NGO in NEpal. It forced me to think a lot about it . :)

' But the thing I totally like about ur article was the fact that you gave so much importance to entrepreneurship. It's an issue i'm very passionate about.


Astha Joshi

Adepeju's picture

Hey sis,

Nice write up. I can identify with the three major barriers here. All the best in your pursuit for solutions :-)

usha kc's picture

Enamara,, You have mentioned

Enamara,, You have mentioned your obstacles so clearly, I wish you and your group can break these obstacles soon.

MaDube's picture

The NGO mentality

That is one of the major problems in my country too where people perceive NGOs as groups of people making lots of money out of their personal problems and experiences. Which is why I have chosen to speak for myself and not affiliated to any organisation because then you face so many challenges and people will not trust that you mean to help and not gain in monetary value from your work.

Lilith784's picture


Awesoma article, Enamara! You have so much clarity about who you are, what you have to offer to your community, and what you need. I am excited to hear more about your ventures, many miles forward!


rozjean's picture

Dear enamara, I read with

Dear enamara,
I read with interest your work with Solar Sister and the challenges of successfully developing your social enterprise system. Your clearly set out the problems and it is obvious that you are actively thinking of solutions. I must admit that I was surprised that NGO's could have such a negative impact on development.
I have a friend in the U.S. who runs a Solar Cooking project in Darfur. I would be very interested in learning the types of Solar products you have.
Keep up the great work you are doing.
Warm wishes,

p.s. be sure to count your words, so you don't go over 500!

CindyColes's picture

Go go go!

Hi Enamara,

How exciting, building a social business. I can feel your entrepreneurial spirit just by reading your article!

I'm right now reading a book by Muhammad Yunus on Social Business. I hope to hear more about your experience soon.

Thanks for sharing, and keep up your great work!

Cindy Coles

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