/explore/students/2011/images/240_Hiking up Mt Kenya

Engineers without Borders: one graduate's journey into Africa

Engineer Laura Clough is enjoying every second of her placement in Kenya. In her latest blog she talks about seeing the difference Global Village Energy Partnership International is making to companies and individuals in Uganda, and how locals are embracing another technology: briquette making.

The Christmas season was definitely a bit different this year. Whilst watching the news from home of blizzards and freezing weather, here in Nairobi we had blue skies and sunshine. It certainly didn’t feel like the traditional Christmas I am used to.  November in Kenya did however bring sightings of snow: 4985m above sea level as I made it to Point Lenana, the hikers' summit of Mount Kenya.

For me, just as important as the work experience and skills I am gaining here on my Engineers without Borders (EWB-UK) placement, is the opportunity to explore Kenya’s amazing landscapes and the people I am meeting along the way.

Getting to know the people we work with

In November I was lucky enough to travel to Uganda as part of my placement to meet some of the entrepreneurs that Global Village Energy Partnership International GVEP-International has been working with. After reading the reports and case studies in the office, it was a great insight to actually meet the people we work with, spending time with them to hear their stories and visit their homes and businesses.

One such visit was to Wekembe SACCO, a local Financial Institute in Luwero, rural Uganda, to whom GVEP have provided a loan guarantee to help stimulate their lending in the energy sector. Here I also met Milly, who has been able to purchase a solar home system for her house through a loan given out under this scheme. The introduction of this system has had a big impact in her life, not only saving her money on kerosene, which she previously used for lighting, but also providing light for her children to read at night and security for her house. She is no longer restricted by the daylight hours and can now go about her daily tasks even after dark. I used the information gathered on these visits to write several articles and create photo stories to help communicate the work GVEP have been doing.

Briquette making grows in popularity

Another technology really taking off in Uganda is that of briquette making. Many people in rural areas use charcoal for cooking - a commodity that is increasing in price and contributing to deforestation in the country. Briquettes can be made of many waste materials such as charcoal dust and sawdust, making them a much more sustainable and environmentally friendly fuel.

GVEP has done a lot of training with entrepreneurs in Uganda on briquette making techniques and as a result many new businesses have started. When introducing a new product such as briquettes into an area, work has to be done to tell people about the product and its benefits before people will start buying them. Techniques that entrepreneurs are using include giving out free samples of their products to local households and hotels and public demonstrations showing how briquettes are used to cook food.

My next assignment

The visit to Uganda highlighted how marketing is a key factor in helping business grow. Getting your product right and understanding your customers’ needs, as well as being able to communicate the right messages to the right market is key, and a challenge for many small energy businesses.

With this in mind I have started work on my next assignment - a study into how small energy businesses are doing their marketing and the challenges that they face. The aim will be to provide solutions to these problems and advice on suitable marketing strategies that could help small energy business grow. And the best part of this project – more field work and the opportunity to meet more of the exceptional entrepreneurs we are working with and explore some more of this remarkable region. 

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