JOSEPH A. ABANYIN
The purpose of eCARE is to accelerate the extension of clean energy and modern telecommunications services to rural and peri-urban users in Ghana. The project is helping small entrepreneurs establish rural business centers (RBCs) that sell voice telephony, internet connectivity and clean energy products and services to rural and peri-urban customers. Deployment of the RBCs is being done through a franchising mechanism managed by Ghana Telecom, the main telecommunications service provider in Ghana. Each RBC is equipped with a basic business package comprising 3 telephones, a computer, printer, internet services and solar photovoltaic (PV) system for power. Entrepreneurs are selected rural areas, trained and provided with loans to acquire and operate their own RBCs. There are currently 52 RBCs in operation in 8 out of the 10 regions of Ghana. 200 RBCs are expected to be established throughout Ghana by December 2008.
1. SEED FINANCING - At the core of the eCARE project is the application of 'seed-financing' as an effective means for providing clean energy and clean energy enabled solutions in rural and peri-urban communities. The project, by means of a contract ensures that qualified entreprenuers are committed to the project by paying 'seed money' or equity before owning their clean energy powered Rural Business Centers.LOAN PROVISION/OWNERSHIPeCARE combines seed financing with enterprise development support to entrepeneurs, enabling them to set up and run commercially viable and sustainable businesses. In this regard, the project is fundamentally different traditional grant-funded initiatives that often do not survive when the grants dry up. Because entrepreneurs are required to provide equity in order to qualify for loans, eCARE further fosters a strong sense of ownership on the part of the entrepreneurs. The combination of entrepreneurs' equity and loan repayments supports a revolving fund for further rollout and sustainability of the project.2.TRAINING - eCARE requires all would-be beneficiaries to undergo a 'week-long' training programme. The programme covers not only the operation and maintenance of the ICT and renewable energy equipment, but also 'Marketing, Customer Care, Book-keeping, Acounting, and basic computer lessons to name a few. 3. PARTICIPATORY MONITORING - The project team uses a participatory approach in project monitoring by engaging the entrepreneurs in the monitoring process to ensure that feedback is accurate and comprehensive.
INDIVIDUALS: At the individual level, the project improves upon the livelihoods of individuals through the provision of employment opportunities and a regular means of income. It also ensures that individuals have access to information.SOCIETY: The project opens up societies to the 'outside' world through the provision of affordable telecommunications. This ensures that the already under-served communities are not further impoverished in their quest to communicate with the outside world. THE ECONOMY: Benefits of the project to the economy are enormous; the creation of jobs not only to entrepreneurs but to people employed by the entrepreneurs generates positive multiplier effects through the local and national economy. The use of renewable and decentralised energy systems ensures that part of the stress is taken off the national grid which is currently being rationed as a result of inability to meet demand. Open channels of communications in the economy serves to accelerate transactions and eliminates some appreciable wastes and risks.THE ENVIRONMENT: The environment is a prime beneficiary of the project. Through the use of renewable (solar photovoltaic) energy which is non-toxic and non-polluting, electrical energy is provided without harming the environment. The project literally 'recycles' 'last-voyage' shipping containers which hitherto would have been left to rust and pollute the environment and refurbishes them, turning them into offices for RBCs. The project team ensures that sites for RBCs are located so that no extensive clearing of forest is carried out thereby minimising the effect if any on the forest.
The Government of Ghana, in its quest to realise the vision of a "Golden Age of Business" has identified Information and Communication Technology (ICTs) as vital to accelerating achievement of the country's development agenda. The project helps in this regard by firstly bridging the "energy divide" and secondly bridging the "digital divide" in a cost effective manner.The project therefore helps government achieve its aim of accelerating the diffusion of ICTs in the country by circumventing the hurdle of the lack of infrastructure (energy). The eCARE project is also complementing Government efforts at reducing poverty through the use of ICTs, and via its employment and income effects. Companies that are directly involved in the day to day activities of the project by way of supply of equipment or provision of services are also benefiting financially. An essential component of the project is its liaison with the Mininstries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). This liaison helps to create the platform for the MDAs to use the RBCs as their extension arms in the discharge of duties in remote communities. For example, discussions are ongoing for collaboration between Ministry of Communications, Ministry of Manapower and employment and eCARE to rollout 200 eCARE centres in 2007 for ICT development and employment in rural areas.The encouragingly positive results and successes achieved by the project have gone a long way to demonstrate the positive effects and impacts of decentralised clean energy systems. The use of these systems have enabled the project establish ICT centers in places that lack the basic infrastructure for this purpose. Hence, the project highlights clean energy systems as keys to solving the energy problems in the country by serving as perfect demonstration pieces for policy makers.The involvement of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), an international organization speerheading and promoting the use of renewable energy is an indication of the importance of eCARE as a vehicle for the promotion of renewable energy in Ghana.
The project has successfully installed a total of 12,480 Wp of decentralised Solar Photovoltaic systems in rural and peri-urban communities of the country. These installations have positively impacted the lives of over 400,000 people. A percentage of these people now have great interest in clean energy. This has helped in focusing clean energy and considering clean energy as possible options for energy provision. The project has made positive strides in a period that the country is experiencing power rationing due to the inability of the hydro-plant to meet demand. Communities with RBCs have seen the benefit of solar energy especially during periods when they have power outage as a result of the rationing and this is shaping the thinking process of society in general concerning clean energy. The project has served to demonstrate to policy makers that a very good option for electrification in the country is decentralised clean energy options especially when communities to be reached are far away the main grid lines.
ECOLOGICAL: The ecological footprint of the project is neglible due primarily to: the direct use of renewable energy in commercial applications, with minimal or no adverse impacts on local ecosystems; and the use of 'de-commissioned' shipping containers, creating an opportunity to 're-cycle' these items which could otherwise have had harmful consequences on the environment.SOCIALLY: The project ensures the sustainability of the society in that it improves on livelihoods of people through employment creation, access to information, knowledge development and cheaper means of communication. This ensures that people who hitherto would have had no jobs now have jobs and are able to sustain their familiesECONOMICALLY: The economic advantages of the project lies in the fact that it helps in creating new forms of wealth through investment and income generation in remote communities. This contributes towards local economic growth and poverty reduction while minimising national disparaties in wealth distribution abetween rural and urban communities.
Source of energy:The project leverages Solar Photovoltaic technologies to create economically viable community business centres where none would have existed under the status quo. The solar system provides the source of energy to power the centres, allowing them to offer much needed energy services including mobile phone battery charging for people in communities that are currently poorly served by the grid or are beyond the grid. Education:In areas where grid connection is either not available or is poor, a growing number of entrepreneurs have began offering solar-lighting at--or adjacent to--their RBCs for school children to study at night.Employment:The Ministry of Communications has approached eCARE with a proposal to scale up the number of centers installed in rural areas as part of the government's strategy of rural employment generation under its ongoing "Youth In ICT Program." Up to 1000 new jobs are to be created through government investment in RBCS in 2007, in addition to the existing entrepreneurs and their assistants already employed under the project.Bridging the digital divide:The solar-powered RBCs are providing computer training and internet services to people in the beneficiary communities. Pupils in some eCARE communities never saw computers till the centres were installed in the area. Today many of these people are rapidly gaining knowledge and skill in the use of computers to enhance access to information and for education. This has given a boost to government of Ghana's efforts to narrow the information gap between the rural and the urban dwellers.