This is the last post of a 14-part series on entrepreneurship in Africa and the companies who participated in the inaugural Unreasonable East Africa program.

Think about this the next time you complain that you can’t find a power outlet to charge your phone: 97 percent of Tanzanians either own or have access to a mobile phone, yet only ten percent live on the national power grid. In rural areas, the figure is around two percent.

To help solve this problem, California resident Olivia Nava co-founded Juabar, a company that builds and leases wheeled, solar-powered phone-charging kiosks in Tanzania. Clients lease the Juabar stations for about $50 per month and can wheel them to gathering places to create a sort of pop-up recharging center. They charge roughly 20 cents per charge and can gross more than $100 per month. These operators, called “Juapreneurs,” also take classes on customer service, book keeping, and product training so that they can provide technical support and sell additional hardware like solar lights to supplement their income. Since its founding in July of 2013, Juabar has put 32 kiosks in the field and plans to have at least 50 in operation by the end of this year.

Mobile-phone adoption has turned electricity into a very real need in Africa. Tweet This Quote

Nava settled on this area of focus while researching electricity access in Tanzania as part of her MBA program at the California College of Arts. Upon retrurning to the U.S., she and Sachi DeCou, a colleague in the design-strategy MBA program, put what they had learned in Tanzania with the design-thinking methodologies they were studying in school and hit upon the Juabar concept. The mobile-kiosk solution, Nava says, is an easy way to get electricity to people who still haven’t benefited from the installed solar-power systems that are still relatively rare, especially in rural Tanzania.

“The dominant model is buy solar products from another country, import them, and distribute them to retailers,” she says. “Even though [Juabar] seems simple and straightforward, it’s a way that no one has ever really thought of doing before.”

Mobile-phone adoption has turned electricity into a very real need in Africa. While lights, radios, and the like are nice, mobile phones are how increasing numbers of Africans do their banking (many had never before had bank accounts), advance their educations, participate in the political process, and manage their farms or small businesses. Without the ability to recharge their phones, their lives can grind to a standstill.

“We’re focused on electricity access right now,” Nava says. “But what motivates us is what people can do with that.”

About the author

Nate Beard

Nate Beard

Nate is a thinker and instigator who occasionally tries to write, sometimes on

  • chubert

    Elegant and beautiful concept! Does anyone know on average on many days a month the mobile kiosk can be used, i.e., that there is enough sunlight to power the kiosk?

    Also, at $0.20/charge and revenue of $100/month, it means that the kiosk services 500 charges/month, or average of 17 charges/day. Is this limited because of the battery/solar charging capacity of the kiosk, or is that sufficient in supplying the customer demand?

  • Boeing7

    Seems like a very innovative idea. My only concern is whether or not Juabar makes any profit from the money made by the charging device itself? They say they lease the charging stations to clients for $50. Do they take any of the $100 monthly profits?

  • Not at this point as we don’t have metering tech in the current units. Soon we are installing that technology in our systems at which point we can experiment with pay for use like a regular utility.

  • Most of our Juapreneurs charge closer to 40 per day, every day of the month. The limit in full sun is 50 per day, which for most of our locations is enough. However we have had to upgrade systems for demand of 75 and 100 charges per day. The kiosk solar was designed based on a specific population density, having said that we continue to collect data with our Juapreneurs to better understand demand and how weather affects usage.

  • justinAKmulligan

    From an entrepreneurial standpoint, are the Juapreneurs by taking on the responsibilities of the business able to generate enough capitol over time to surpass the average yearly income? Does it make sense as a business for a Tanzanian with the proper motivation? Do you have plans for them to own their own devices outright over time? I applaud the company for taking on such an area of focus.

  • Alexander

    This business that they have created is simple where it lets the consumer decide how they use it to make money. They simply supply the mobile electricity and get paid for renting them out to the citizens.

  • Bangyan Zhang

    For the article, there is one point coming out. Find the lack of the place, that is the profit you can earn. That’s the ability what one outstanding entrepreneur will have. The different view.

  • Kristen West

    It appears that incorporating the courses in business practices
    (book keeping, customer service, etc.) helped Juabar increase the likelihood of
    successfully implementing its products and services. However, also seems like
    it may have helped encourage community adoption and participation. Was this the
    case? Do Tanzanians want channels that enable self-employment or teach business
    acumen? Or is Tanzanian culture responsive to incoming businesses that offer
    an educational component? Ultimately, were the classes used by Juabar as a
    point of entry into the local communities? If so, what data did you have to
    support this approach?

  • Chris Lynch

    Is Juabar only being employed in Tanzania or is there a desire to expand to other areas of East Africa? Also, I understand mobile payments are becoming increasingly popular in the region, is this used through Juabar at all?

  • Brittney Glende

    This is a very interesting article Nate and something that has informed me on mobile phone adaption and how it has turned electricity a real need in Africa. The points stated were interesting, especially when you look at it with the farmers running their business, or banking that is done through mobile devices. With out the recharging stations their businesses will come to a halt. Thanks for sharing this article with us.

  • Zintia Martinez

    I am pretty sure more interesting ideas will come up after this. Any thoughts about how innovating?. This is great idea especially for people that do not have access to electricity. Have you thought about giving back to the poor? I mean a percentage to help poor children in the same town etc.

  • tspurloc

    I appreciate the innovation discussed in this article. I am often concerned for individuals in nations that do not have access to modern conveniences that we have. I am very happy to know that Tanzania now has a way of accessing electricity (even if it is in a limited form).

  • Alexa A Dralle

    I always think that solar power is a great idea. eventually it will ay for itself, its stronger, and it is accessible everywhere. This kiosk idea is also fantastic for these people to connect and with that, they will be able to do so much more than they normally would.

  • maxfunny

    I think solar power is the way of the future. It is crazy to think that so many people have phones ,but they pretty much just become paper weights. If we could keep them charged we keep them connected.