Olebogeng ‘Lebo’ leads a group of seven ladies in a Solar Energy business bringing safe and clean energy to rural off-grid families in northern Botswana. The Great Plains Foundation’s Solar Mamas initiative was the springboard for the business that has been running since 2019. Lebo and her all-female team of Solar Mamas have installed over 200 safe and sustainable electricity systems to off-grid families in the Okavango region, with lights linked to the battery. The impact of the solar systems has extended wider than originally expected. The connected lights are helping school kids to study safely after dark and women to continue their businesses into the evening, the light also act as elephant deterrents in an area of human wildlife conflict and more. The battery chargers have allowed for phones to be safely charged, supporting businesswomen to manage payments and their business without complication. Lebo has become a true leader in the surrounding communities and an ambassador for women empowerment and business in the region.
Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?
I am Olebogeng Ruth Samaemo, born and raised in Seronga, a village in Ngamiland in Northern Botswana. I have a career of Solar Business from being trained in India for 5 months under a Great Plains initiative ‘Solar Mamas’. We are an all-female team of 8 Solar Mamas across five communities and I am the region leader.
How did the idea come to you for the company?
It was an idea that Great Plains bought to our communities – they introduced the solar business to us through our community ‘kgotla’ meetings. I was very interested and applied and was successful and became a Solar Mama.
How did you achieve awareness?
I spoke to large groups at our kgotla meetings and also did a house-to-house campaign about the advantages of buying the solar system products.
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
Great Plains Foundation have funded the grass roots of the business by funding our solar engineering training in India, by subsidising the Household Solar Systems we were selling and by funding the purchase of my tools and equipment for safe and effective installations. I sell the solar systems to families in Seronga and surrounding areas.
What are the key successes?
- I have a solar system at home and as I write this my kids and other kids have light and they can do their homework and reading during evening hours which I know will improve their school performance
- We have lights during the night which deters elephants and any reptiles like snakes coming to my house and I can chase them away.
- The income I have got from the Solar Mama business has been used to pay my kids school fees and uniforms.
- When we returned from India we were trained at the Great Plains Academy on skills of business and marketing to support the beginning of the solar business. These skills are a success that we are sharing with our children and other women.
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
In the beginning people were not confident about solar systems but after I installed a few systems in some houses people realised that it was great. They realised it was cheaper for even unemployed people can afford to buy the solar system thanks to the Great Plains subsidies. As we speak we have a high demand for the units and systems.
What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own
entrepreneurship journey? Can you share you top tips for entrepreneurial success?
If you are a women and don’t feel you can do it, you can. I did, we did, you can.
I’d like to share how to start your own business and how others can benefit from you – thus local empowerment and creating employment for others. I learnt great skills when I went to India for 5 months training on solar systems and learnt about the tools, how to calculate resistor value, types of electricity, how to assemble the charge controller and how to test and learn to repar install and maintain solar lights and batteries thus manufacturing of solar products and its advantages to the community and country at large.
Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most and why?
I feel honoured by Great Plains Foundation, the Seronga Community, my fellow Solar Mamas and women.
What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?
Let’s stand up in creating employment so that other people can benefit from us and uplift our families and the country at large.
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